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In responding to last year’s fatal Terminal 3 shooting, Los Angeles International Airport officials had an inadequate emergency alert and warning system, failed to focus on incident command basics and fell short in communicating to passengers, a report released Tuesday found.
The 83-page broad internal review, conducted with an outside consultant, called the overall response “successful” but shed light on lessons learned following the Nov. 1, 2013, shooting.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti hailed LAX officers for responding “expertly and heroically” in quickly stopping suspect Paul Ciancia, a Sun Valley resident who had allegedly targeted TSA officers and had more than 100 unused rounds of ammunition.
The shooting left Transportation Security Administration Officer Gerardo Hernandez dead and three others, including two TSA officers, wounded. Ciancia has been indicted on 11 counts in relation to the shooting, including murder of a federal officer, and is awaiting trial.
“I want also be clear that we got lucky out there,” Garcetti told reporters at a news conference at LAX. “We’re lucky the shooting didn’t take more lives. We’re lucky that day the casualty list was not higher. I asked for this report to make sure we do everything we can not to depend on luck as well as the heroic work of our first responders.”
Among the key recommendations are that emergency alert and warning systems, including duress phones or “red phones,” need to be updated and technologies for 9-1-1 notifications to airport police must be better integrated.
“The right systems, clear lines of responsibility and well-documented processes for alert notification are critical to avoiding delay in mobilizing a response during the early stages of any emergency,” the report stated.
The review also found that there needs to be a continuing emphasis on incident command basics and that public mass notification at the airport “was lacking.”
LAX is now developing a centralized public address system to facilitate communication around the airport, adding nearly a dozen message signs for incoming roadways and finding a way to send emergency messages to travelers’ cellphones at the airport, Garcetti said.
“Our response has to be in this day and age both analog and digital, face-to-face and virtual, something we see both actively and feel passively,” he said.
In addition, all Los Angeles Airport International telephones and panic alarms in the terminals will transmit location information to dispatch when an emergency call is made. On Nov. 1, a TSA supervisor picked up an LAX telephone that rings airport police during the incident but she dropped the phone when she had to evacuate immediately. Because of a “glitch” in the system, officers couldn’t tell where the call was coming from, said Los Angeles World Airports Police Chief Patrick Gannon.
“All our phones were designed and developed so caller identification would pop up on the screen,” Gannon told LAWA commissioners. “That had fallen off the grid and was not working properly.”
Garcetti also called on the state officials to upgrade the 9-1-1 calling system so that calls made from cellphones at the airport aren’t automatically routed to the California Highway Patrol officials but to airport police. In the meantime, airport employees are being urged to program the airport police dispatch number into their cellphones, he said. Training will also be given to airport employees so they are better equipped to help passengers evacuate during a crisis, he said.
“While LAX is ahead of most airports nationally and internationally, the after-action report is a template for continuing evolution at LAX,” LAWA Executive Director Gina Marie Lindsey said. “Our learning will be a catalyst for change at other airports all over the world.”
Meanwhile, members of a union that includes airport workers such as baggage handlers, wheelchair attendants and skycaps, asked Los Angeles World Airports commissioners to consider the report they released on the incident.
The report by SEIU United Service Workers West found that passengers “were placed at greater risk as a result of a lack of effort on the part of the airport authority to include these workers in emergency response coordination and communications as well as a lack of training and investment into the contract service workers who provide passenger services on behalf of the airlines.”
LAX wheelchair attendant Fanny Fuentes, 41, was praised by Garcetti for her efforts in helping to evacuate Terminal 3 and disabled passengers during the Nov. 1 shooting. Fuentes, a member of SEIU United Service Workers West, said she was encouraged that the mayor promised emergency training to the airport’s employees and other measures to help secure the safety of passengers and others.
“I’m excited because I’ve been with the airport since ’96, and I haven’t seen that happening,” Fuentes said. “For the mayor to commit himself to do it publicly, I think there is going to be a change.” ___