The emergency response to November's deadly shooting at Los Angeles International Airport was hampered by poor communication and a lack of coordination between agencies, problems that contributed to a chaotic evacuation and delays reaching victims, officials said Tuesday.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, citing a new report on the shooting, said confusion following the attack that left a federal security officer dead largely stemmed from a lack of communication between first-responders and the traveling public.
The report on the Nov. 1 incident evaluated the performance of public safety agencies and the emergency management team of Los Angeles World Airports, which operates LAX.
"The biggest failure was the lack of communication," Garcetti said at a news conference at LAX.
Garcetti, as well as law enforcement and airport officials, credited police for responding within minutes to a call of an active shooter inside Terminal 3, and a swift-thinking airport employee who dialed airport police dispatch from his cellphone.
But once first-responders arrived, they had trouble communicating because they did not have radios that operated together, Garcetti said.
It also took 45 minutes for agencies to put together a unified command structure following the shooting, the report said, and an incident command post "did not ever fully mature."
Auditors found "technical malfunction" in the Terminal 3 emergency alert system following the shooting, the report said. An airport-wide study found that other panic alarms and some red emergency phones were also not working properly.
The first contact with emergency personnel came a minute after the shooting, when a TSA agent picked up a red phone in the terminal, then dropped it, the report said. Dispatchers heard shooting but no details and did not know where it was happening.
About a minute later, an airport employee who had the airport police's dispatch number programmed into his cellphone called to report the shooting.
Garcetti said the airport will create an alert system that will automatically appear on cellphones in the area. Officials are also adding alarms that passengers or employees can pull in the terminal areas, and adding a universal public-address system throughout the terminals.
Garcetti also criticized California's 911 system, which in some areas connects cellphone callers to the California Highway Patrol. He said he plans to push changes to dispatch procedures so that cellphone callers are connected to the closest law enforcement agency.
The day of the shooting, passengers and families had little information about the status of the shooting or its aftermath. Passengers were seen wandering the streets near LAX, dragging luggage, unsure if their flights would be rebooked or whether they should check into a hotel.
"People were with no information by and large for too many hours and that was unacceptable," Garcetti said. "I personally found myself, as mayor, going up to people … saying, 'It's going to be a few hours, go to a hotel, get something to drink.' We shouldn't have to rely on individuals like myself."
Officials have also discussed creating so-called tactical paramedics, who would be trained to tend to victims during an active shooting situation.
Law enforcement officers at the airport will not be standing at fixed positions as they were before the shooting, airport police Chief Patrick Gannon said. He said staffing would have to be more flexible, noting "incidents can come at checkpoints, they can come on runways, they can come at curbside."
The airport police force has 20 vacancies, and applicants' background checks are pending in other city departments, Garcetti said. Finishing those checks, Garcetti said, is "something overnight that would give us the sort of coverage that we need."
The suggestions are "a template for continuing evolution at LAX," airport director Gina Marie Lindsey said. "Our learning will be a catalyst for change at other airports all over the world."
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