LAX shooting: Bonin calls for community-oriented disaster planning at airport

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The Los Angeles International Airport was unprepared for evacuating and communicating with passengers and the surrounding community during the November 1 shooting in Terminal 3, L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin said Tuesday.

Bonin also praised those who responded to the shooting, noting that a lot went right with emergency response and collaboration amongst the various agencies who descended upon LAX--but if we'd not been "lucky," Bonin said, a lot could have gone worse.

RELATED: Timeline: Shots fired at LAX Terminal 3 checkpoint

"Lucky in that this was an isolated shooter who was targeting only TSA employees and was not shooting randomly towards the general population," Bonin said, which likely would have dramatically increased the number of dead and wounded.

RELATED: LAX shooting: Suspect, slain TSA officer ID'd; 7 injured in Terminal 3 (updates)

Bonin said the community was also lucky in that "when there were some problems with the communications" that an airport employee had LAWA Police's number stored in his cell phone, alerting the airport police to the shooting quickly. 

Crowd management and communicating with confused, stranded passengers and the hotels surrounding the airport, however, did not go so well, Bonin said.

"There were people who were milling about without direction, who were wandering roadways with luggage," Bonin said. "There were people sitting on planes on tarmacs with no information. There were employees at the airport who had little information and were not empowered to help in the situation."

Los Angeles World Airports Executive Director Gina Maria Lindsey said airports in general are way behind in planning for current threats.

"We started out as airports focusing solely on airport accidents," Lindsey said. Gradually, safety concerns have evolved, and with them response plans.

"It migrated to hijackings, then it migrated to protecting the cockpit," Lindsey said. "We're moving from the airfield progressively to the more public areas of the airport. So the airport emergency planning, as required by FAA is very airfield centric."

Lindsey and her colleagues reported several planned changes at LAX, among them:

  • A new public address system that spans across terminals, instead of the current system, where airport personnel in each terminal must broadcast a message;
  • A system for sending emergency instructions via text message to anyone with a cell phone in a certain radius of the airport;
  • 19 new evacuation plans, specific to different types of emergencies like shootings, earthquakes, and terrorist attacks;
  • Using airline information TV monitors to broadcast emergency messages;
  • Training employees in airport concessions in emergency preparedness and plans;
  • Keeping water stashed in various places in the airport as opposed to in a central location, in order to speed up distribution.

The committee instructed LAX officials to compile a list of recommendations for improvement to the airport first outlined in a 2011 report by a Blue Ribbon Commission within 30 days. In addition, officials will report back to the committee on their own progress improving airport communications and crowd management systems within 90 days.

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