LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles International Airport was ill prepared for a crisis when a gunman ambushed security officers last year, and the emergency response was hindered by communication problems and poor coordination, according to a report released Tuesday.
The report obtained in advance by The Associated Press spotlighted flaws in various divisions of the airport and in systems that were in place, but 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.
Mayor Eric Garcetti said a number of issues detailed in the report were addressed and work will continue on others.
“I expect this airport to take care of this airport,” Garcetti said at a news conference. “It is not something where we’re going to look for the cavalry to come in and to save us ... We had a pretty good system, but pretty good isn’t good for me.”
The 83-page report was put together by a consultant based on findings by several agencies that responded to the shooting and a review of camera footage, dispatch logs and 911 calls.
It cited the heroism of officers who shot and arrested Paul Ciancia after a Transportation Security Administration officer was killed and three other people were injured on Nov. 1.
However, it also detailed lapses in technology and coordination and included some 50 recommendations and lessons learned.
“Had the attacker not been highly selective in his targets, and/or had there been multiple attackers with weapons of greater lethality, the outcome might have been far different,” the report said.
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 AP 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. However, Garcetti said airport policies requiring notification must be enforced and officers should be reminded and retrained about those rules.
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 released Tuesday, 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.
On Tuesday, 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, in detailing the poor communications during the attack, noted that airport police had previously upgraded to a $5.4 million high-tech radio system but often couldn’t communicate with the 20-plus 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 mid-level 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 and 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.
Mayor Garcetti said all LAX telephones and panic alarms have since been updated to transmit location information to dispatchers when an emergency call is made.
The report was highly critical of the Los Angeles World Airports emergency management program, which it said was “not well-defined or widely understood across the agency, or perhaps even respected.”
AP also has reported that a union representing sky caps, baggage handlers and lower level security employees had no idea what to do during the attack, were not trained for an evacuation and didn’t know how to help passengers.
SEIU United Service Workers West spokesman Jacob Hay said the union was pleased by the mayor’s recognition of their importance but stressed that routine and comprehensive in-person training was necessary.
“Serious risks cannot be addressed by a one-time video training,” Hay added.
To keep travelers informed during chaotic situations, Garcetti said LAX is fielding teams to walk the airport, working on a centralized public address system, and can now send messages directly to travelers’ cellphones.