LOS ANGELES (CBS/AP) — Nearly five months after a gunman’s deadly attack at Los Angeles International Airport, lawmakers and local officials met Friday for a congressional hearing to discuss its lessons.
The hearing before the House Committee on Homeland Security’s subcommittee on transportation security comes after the airport operator issued a report last week that highlighted significant lapses in the emergency response, and a Transportation Security Administration report this week reviewing airport security at nearly 450 airports nationwide.
Paul Ciancia, 24, is accused of targeting TSA officers in his attack, killing Officer Gerardo Hernandez and wounding two other officers and a passenger. The Pennsville, N.J., native, has pleaded not guilty to 11 federal charges, including murder of a federal officer. Hernandez was the TSA’s first line-of-duty death.
The TSA report made 14 recommendations to improve airport security, including more training on active shooter response, technological recommendations such as a greater number and more high-tech panic alarms at airports, and requiring an armed law enforcement presence at checkpoints and ticket counters during peak hours.
The report by the Los Angeles World Airports, which operates LAX, found that lapses in communication and coordination led to delays in responding to the gunman and providing aid to victims. The Associated Press earlier reported that Hernandez did not receive medical aid until 33 minutes after he was shot multiple times. He was pronounced dead after surgeons worked for an hour at a hospital. A later coroner’s release said he was likely dead within two to five minutes.
U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, whose area includes LAX, was present Friday, and called the airport’s findings on the emergency response an embarrassment.
She told KCAL9’s Randy Paige she was taking a middle ground approach — by asking, why not have an armed presence at checkpoints as well as roving officers.
“I am not willing to give up on the idea we can do a ittle bit better if we have stationed security at each of the TSA checkpoints. Why can’t we do both,” Waters said.
TSA Administrator John Pistole testified at the hearing along with the airport’s Executive Director Gina Marie Lindsey, LAX Police Chief Patrick Gannon and J. David Cox Sr., national president of the American Federation of Government Employees which represents 45,000 TSA officers.
Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss. said in a statement this week that he has “lingering concerns” about TSA’s ability to communicate with emergency responders despite $13 billion spent since 9/11 to improve inter-agency communications. The airport’s review noted that multiple command posts were set up and officers from different agencies couldn’t communicate easily by radio.
Airports are run by local operators, and because each airport is different, each is responsible for creating its own security plan that must be approved by TSA. The agency has general guidelines that airport plans must meet. Airport differences mean there’s also a lack of consistency in security provided to TSA officers, who aren’t armed.
The TSA review found that officers were concerned about their safety and wanted more done to improve their security.
The TSA national union has pushed for the agency to create its own unit of armed law enforcement unit to ensure the security of its officers at airports. J. David Cox Sr., the union’s head, said in a statement Thursday that the two reports issued on the LAX shooting and airport security “made it clear that the security processes and systems at checkpoints nationwide are fundamentally broken.”
Although both reports note systemic flaws, neither assigned responsibility to any person for failures Nov. 1. The airport’s report also didn’t mention an earlier AP report that found the two armed airport police officers assigned to Terminal 3 had left for breaks and were not inside the terminal when the shooting started. One had left for the bathroom in the next terminal over, and the other was headed to lunch.
The officers didn’t inform dispatchers as required by department policy. And because they were out of position, an airline contractor alerted airport police dispatch about the attack from his cellphone. The terminal was left without any armed officer for nearly 3.5 minutes as the gunman advanced with a high-powered rifle targeting TSA officers.
LAX Police Chief Gannon said he agreed with the TSA recommendations and that his officers are already highly visible in and around the security checkpoint and ticket areas. He said peak hours vary and that the department would keep an eye on such times to provide a highly visible police presence as necessary.
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