Emergency Response to Los Angeles TSA Shooting Faulted

Gregory Bull/AP

Communications snafus that delayed emergency responders and confused airport crowds hampered law enforcement’s performance during the fatal shooting of a federal Transportation Security Officer at Los Angeles International Airport last November, a report concluded.

Released Tuesday by the Los Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners, the report drew criticism from the American Federation of Government Employees, which represented Transportation Security Administration employee Gerardo Hernandez. Hernandez was shot and killed by a gunman who now faces prosecution.

“On November 1, the first indication of an emergency came at 9:19 a.m., immediately after the first shots were fired,” the report said. “This alert came via a call from the Red Phone located at the Terminal 3 TSA passenger checkpoint. An unidentified TSA agent apparently picked up the Red Phone but immediately dropped it in the hasty evacuation from the checkpoint. The LAWAPD operator 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.” LAWAPD refers to the Los Angeles World Airports Police Department. Los Angeles World Airports runs three airports, including LAX.

While the airport and Los Angeles city police responded “as a team, with courage, skill and professionalism,” the report said, there were key lessons learned that indicate a need for improvement. They include updating technology in red phones, a greater emphasis on “command basics” among partner agencies and more effort to “use social networking and commercial media to inform the general public” of emergencies through the use of mass text messages.

“We are deeply disturbed by the findings in this report," said AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. “The lack of incident coordination exhibited in this account is absolutely unacceptable. There is no excuse for a 33-minute gap between the time of the shooting and medical attention arriving at Officer Hernandez’s side.” He faulted the report for failing to mention that some law enforcement officers recently had been removed from the checkpoint and that two of them were out of position when the shooting started, leaving the TSA employees as “sitting ducks,” Cox said.

“We are calling on TSA to create a new unit of armed TSA law enforcement officers to defend our nation’s airport screening areas around the clock. This will ensure a consistent, professional, and coordinated response in the event an incident like this occurs again.” 

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