Los Angeles airport officials on Tuesday told a City Council committee that improvements in training, communications and emergency management are on the way in the aftermath of November’s deadly shooting at Los Angeles International Airport.
The measures include better communication and coordination between airport and public safety command centers as well as an expanded emergency notification system for airlines, LAX concessionaires, hotels and ground transportation companies.
Among the other improvements are a new wireless communications system to send emergency information to all cellphones at the airport, a special team of officials to help stranded travelers and more evacuation training for all workers at LAX.
Airport Director Gina Marie Lindsey, airport Police Chief Patrick Gannon and two high-ranking emergency managers for Los Angeles World Airports appeared at a special meeting of the council’s Trade, Commerce and Tourism Committee.
The hearing was requested by Councilman Mike Bonin, who was concerned about the chaotic evacuation of airport terminals Nov. 1, the day a gunman hunted for Transportation Security Administration officials in Terminal 3.
One TSA agent was killed and two more agents and a teacher were wounded before airport police shot and captured the suspect.
About 23,000 passengers were in the terminal that day, airport officials said. Many were concerned about a lack of information, limited access to food and water, improperly marked emergency exits and other difficulties evacuating.
Bonin, whose district includes LAX, said he was impressed by how fast LAX returned to normal flight operations and the quick response of police who stopped the gunman minutes after he entered the terminal.
But Bonin said the attack made it clear there were problems with communications, coordination and crowd management.
“There will be a next time,” the councilman warned. “There will be another breach of security, a terrorist act or a natural disaster.”
Airport officials said they are updating the airports emergency response plan and will set up conveniently located food and water supplies at LAX for stranded passengers.
They also told the committee they are considering predetermined emergency access points to the airport to make sure public safety vehicles and support organizations, such as the Red Cross, can enter without delay.
Questions were raised again about the inefficiency of the 911 system at LAX that does not route callers directly to airport police. Depending on where someone is, 911 calls can go the Los Angeles Police Department, the California Highway Patrol or a South Bay dispatch center.
“This will take some work,” Gannon said.
Bonin requested that airport officials return in 90 days to report their progress with training, communications, joint drills between airport staff and public safety personnel and the purchase of a mobile command post.
He also wanted an update in 30 days detailing how well Los Angeles World Airports, the city agency that operates LAX, is implementing the recommendations of a special blue ribbon panel on security ordered by former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
Released in November 2011, the panel’s study concluded that LAX was safe, but still needed to improve emergency management, the security of its facilities and the airport police force.