Los Angeles International Airport is inexcusably lacking in its capacity to deal with a crisis, local and national government officials said, calling the communication lapses described in a report on last year’s deadly airport shooting everything from a “failure” and an “embarrassment.”
While all were quick to praise the Transportation Security Administration officer who was killed and the officers who took down and arrested his attacker, they said the airport’s emergency response, hindered by communication problems and poor coordination, had to change quickly and thoroughly.
“I would say this is a nationwide failure so far,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said, “for us to be 13 years almost, 12 ½ years after 9/11 still trying to figure out a way to talk to each other frustrates me as a policymaker, frustrates me as the mayor of the second biggest city in America, frustrates me as a leader of this airport too, which is consistently a target for international terrorism and domestic terrorism.”
Congresswoman Maxine Waters, whose district includes the airport, was more blunt, saying she was “shocked and dismayed” at the system that “clearly failed on this critical day.”
“This report is an embarrassment,” Waters said in a statement. The airport “spends $125 million on security every year. With this level of investment, LAX should have a state-of-the-art emergency response system.”
Garcetti expressed particular frustration in the lack of communication between the airport and travelers, many of whom were left clueless in the incident’s aftermath. Garcetti said he found himself giving out information as he walked through the airport the day of the Nov. 1 attack, and that airport officials “shouldn’t have to rely on people like myself.”
Despite the reaction, the 83-page report released Tuesday was as notable for the lapses it left out as those it highlighted.
While spotlighting flaws in various airport divisions, it did not single out individuals responsible for problems.
It also didn’t mention that two airport police officers assigned to Terminal 3 were out of position without notifying dispatchers, as required, or discuss a decision months before the shooting to have police officers roam terminals instead of staffing security checkpoints such as the one approached by the attacker.
The report was put together by a consultant based on findings by several agencies that responded to the shooting and a review of surveillance video, dispatch logs and 911 calls.
It cited the heroism of officers who shot and arrested Paul Ciancia after a TSA officer was killed and three other people were injured Nov. 1.
It also detailed problems in technology and coordination, however, and included about 50 recommendations and lessons learned.
“Had the attacker not been highly selective in his targets,” the report said, “the outcome might have been far different.”
J. David Cox Sr., national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said Tuesday the lack of coordination was “absolutely unacceptable” and medical aid to the fatally wounded TSA officer should not have been delayed.
The Associated Press previously found that the TSA officer was not taken to an ambulance for 33 minutes.
“This report confirmed what we already knew — that the security processes and systems at LAX are fundamentally broken,” Cox said.
The report called for training airport police in tactical medicine so they can help the injured before paramedics arrive, and for training paramedics to enter more dangerous zones earlier with law enforcement protection.
Cox also called the report incomplete and off-target in ignoring that law enforcement officers had been redeployed to roam terminals and that two officers were out of position when the shooting began.
LAX Police Chief Patrick Gannon said he was satisfied with the activities of the officers. Cox called on the TSA and the airport board to take swift action to close security and emergency response gaps and said more needs to be done nationally to prevent such a situation from happening again. He said TSA officers, who are unarmed, shouldn’t be in fear for their lives when going to work; they should know equipment will work and armed officers will be present when needed.
The TSA declined to comment on the report, saying a congressional hearing is planned next week in Los Angeles to discuss the shooting review.
Sean Burton, president of the board of airport commissioners, said LAX needs additional emergency management staff, more training, new equipment and better agreements with other responding agencies.
Airport board members asked LAX officials to provide a timeline for implementing the recommendations in the report. The board will be receiving quarterly progress reports.
The report noted that airport police had previously upgraded to a $5.4 million high-tech radio system but often couldn’t communicate with the 20 or more agencies on scene.
In addition, senior police and fire commanders had no idea where to go or what the others were doing, and they didn’t unify multiple command posts for 45 minutes. There was nearly no communication between command post officials and the airport’s emergency operations center, which the report described as being staffed by untrained midlevel managers.
The review also confirmed earlier AP reports, including that a TSA supervisor picked up a red phone immediately after the first shots were fired but hastily fled as the gunman approached.
The airport police dispatcher who answered the call “only heard the sounds of shouting and gunshots. With no caller identification for a call from a red phone, and no one on the other end of the line, it was not initially known from where the call originated,” the report states.