A year after a man walked into Los Angeles International Airport with an assault rifle and vendetta against security screeners, efforts are still underway to prepare for such attacks.
In reviewing the Nov. 1, 2013, shooting, which left a Transportation Security Administration officer dead and three other people injured, the nation’s third-busiest airport found it was ill-prepared to communicate with passengers and the public; lacked security cameras in key locations; and had not provided ample training on emergency procedures to workers.
In addition, airport police had upgraded to a $5.4 million high-tech radio system but often couldn’t communicate with the 20 or more agencies on scene.
A separate federal report found most TSA officers at 450 airports nationwide were concerned for their safety and wanted better security.
Here are some of the major issues and what’s been accomplished:
Law Enforcement Presence
On the day of the shooting, the two airport police officers assigned to the terminal targeted by the gunman had left for unauthorized breaks. They were outside the terminal when the gunman opened fire.
New Jersey native Paul Ciancia has pleaded not guilty to 11 federal charges, including murder of a federal officer.
The TSA’s review recommended that armed officers be present at security checkpoints and ticket counters during peak travel times. Because TSA officers aren’t armed, their security depends on local police.
Los Angeles Airport Police Chief Patrick Gannon said he supports TSA’s recommendation for officer deployment, and has worked to ensure a strong presence during peak hours. He said he has focused increasingly on using data to determine deployment.
Finally, Gannon said officers have been reminded of protocols for leaving their posts or taking breaks, and provided additional training if necessary.
TSA Officer Victor Payes doesn’t see it.
“Nothing really changed,” said Payes, a TSA union leader.
There were a couple months of extra police presence at checkpoints after the shooting, but recently it can take 10 minutes to get a response, he said.
“Do we necessarily feel safer? Not really,” said Payes. “In peak travel times you don’t see (an airport police) officer around. You don’t always feel like they’re immediately available.”
TSA’s national union pushed for a separate unit of law enforcement within the agency to provide security, but that failed.
“There’s a value of having law enforcement inside of TSA that TSA is in control of,” said J. David Cox Sr., national president of the American Federation of Government Employees.
Panic Buttoms, Emergency Phones and Cameras
The official reviews determined that panic buttons weren’t working and emergency phones weren’t routed to on-site police departments. At LAX, dispatchers couldn’t tell where the shooting was happening because a TSA manager who picked up an emergency phone fled the advancing gunman and the phone system didn’t identify the location.
Now LAX tests panic buttons daily and emergency phones provide location details.
TSA has hired a contractor to install panic alarms at more than 100 airports since August.
After being unable to see the gunman arrive, LAX installed curbside cameras and is evaluating whether more are needed elsewhere.
Communicaton, Coordination and Training
The day of the shooting, police and fire personnel took 45 minutes to set up one unified command post. The lack of coordination was amplified by incompatible radio systems, which hindered response among roughly 20 agencies.
Airport police have since joined other police, fire and federal agencies to conduct 34 training sessions to practice and speed emergency response. Airport police have provided outside agencies with radios tuned to their wavelengths.
During emergencies, LAX now can text emergency alerts — like those sent for child abductions — to the cellphones of people at the airport.
TSA and LAX have worked on videos telling employees how to respond to a shooting. So far, 56 training sessions have occurred for airport employees, though that represents a fraction of employees there.
“Is this airport safer than it was last year?” Gannon said. “I would say it’s as safe as it was last year, and it was safe.”
In September, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that requires several state offices to coordinate training standards for responding to shootings.
The House of Representatives passed the Hernandez Airport Security Act — named for slain TSA Officer Gerardo Hernandez — but the Senate has not acted, disappointing Rep. Maxine Waters, whose district includes LAX.
“Last year’s incident at LAX remains a deeply disturbing episode in the airport’s history,” Waters said, citing emergency response failures that “exposed systemic problems that (the airport authority) is still working to address.”
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