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Report Finds Out-of-Sync Response to Deadly Shooting at Los Angeles Airport

LA Mayor Eric Garcetti addressed shortcomings and lessons learned during last year's LAX shooting in a Tuesday afternoon press conference

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Changes are coming to the LAX security system four months after a shooter opened fire in the airport, killing one and injuring others. Patrick Healy reports from LAX for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, March 18, 2014.

    A report on the emergency response to a shooting last year at Los Angeles International Airport, which left a security screener dead, cites serious shortcomings in communication between agencies that left major commanders in the dark and a long lag in establishing a coordinated response.

    LAX Shooting Response Suffered

    [LA] LAX Shooting Response Suffered
    A report cites serious flaws in the law enforcement response to the LAX shooting last year. Patrick Healy reports for the NBC4 News at Noon on Tuesday, March 18, 2014.

    The lengthy report cites the "heroism" of officers who shot and took suspect Paul Ciancia into custody after he'd killed a Transportation Security Administration officer and injured three people on Nov. 1.

    But it details lapses in coordination and technology between police and fire departments, which set up multiple command posts at different locations that didn't unify for 45 minutes. The first meeting among commanders didn't occur until more than 1 1/2 hours after the shooting began.

    "We're lucky that shooting didn't take more lives," Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said during a press conference.

    The report says police and fire officials were hindered by incompatible radio systems that prevented airport police from communicating. Meanwhile, senior police and fire commanders arriving on scene had no idea where to go or what the others were doing. There was nearly no communication between the command post officials and those in the airport's emergency operations center, which the report described as being staffed by untrained mid-level managers.

    The airport spent $5.4 million in 2011 on a new high-tech radio system, which often proved useless in communicating with the more than 20 agencies that responded.

    Fire officials worried by how close the incident command post was to the initial shooting site originally set up their own command post, which hampered the ability to coordinate with law enforcement and to get victims out of the terminal. Airport police had to send two teams of marksmen on top of parking structures to protect the command post amid initial worries of additional shooters.

    Authorities say Ciancia, 24, targeted TSA officers in his attack. The Pennsville, N.J., native who moved to Los Angeles two years earlier has pleaded not guilty to 11 federal charges, including murder of a federal officer.

    The report cites a number of lessons learned, including some 50 recommendations, and ominously warns: "Had the attacker not been highly selective in his targets, and/or had there been multiple attackers with weapons of greater lethality, the outcome might have been far different."

    Much of the review confirms earlier reports by the AP, including that a TSA supervisor picked up a red phone immediately after the first shots were fired and the gunman hastily fled. The report says the airport police dispatcher "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."

    Technical malfunctions were discovered at the Terminal 3 checkpoint and an airport-wide audit of red phones and panic buttons found some of those devices weren't working properly. The report calls for updates to the airport's emergency red phones and improvements to how airport police receive 911 calls as well as to security cameras.

    The broad review of the emergency response conducted by airport staff and an outside contractor included interviews with airport staff, law enforcement and first responders, reviews of camera footage, dispatch logs and 911 calls.

    There is no mention of the two airport police officers assigned to Terminal 3 who were out of position without notifying dispatchers as required when the shooting erupted.

    The report recommends that airport police test their random security deployments to uncover flaws after it was determined that Ciancia may have passed through an airport police checkpoint but evidently wasn't deterred or stopped.

    A flood of responders made it difficult to track resources and organize their deployment. And the responders left their vehicles in airport roadways, requiring them to be towed.

    Because officers from other jurisdictions working LAX perimeter checkpoints had not been given directions, they turned away many responders who had to find an escort in, including members of the Department of Disabilities, the Red Cross, TSA security officers, pilots and flight attendants, aircraft mechanics, ground crews, service workers. Even the airport executive director and head of media relations weren't allowed in for a time.

    Recommendations include improving the public announcement system and increased training for the entire airport community and other agencies involved in responding to such emergencies. The report also calls for training airport police in tactical medicine so they can help the injured before paramedics arrive.

    Los Angeles World Airports, which operates LAX and two other airports, spends $125 million on security annually, according to the report.

    It is highly critical of the Los Angeles World Airports' emergency management program, which it says is "not well-defined or widely understood across the agency, or perhaps even respected by the stakeholders it must be engaged with and from whom it must win support and cooperation."
    It adds that the airport operator's emergency management division "does not appear to be appropriately organized, sufficiently staffed, or adequately resourced."

    The airport prepared an active shooter draft plan in March 2013, but officials on the airport's emergency management committee couldn't reach a consensus on it.

    The airport has hired an outside contractor to work on an emergency plan and program since early 2012; that process is ongoing.