Lawmakers on the House Homeland Security Committee said Thursday that there were still lessons that can be learned from the November 2013 shooting at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).
The shooting resulted in the first death of a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officer in the line of duty since the agency’s inception in 2002.
The chairman of the Homeland Security subcommittee on transportation, Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), said the “the LAX shooting resulted in an inspiring display of bravery by emergency first responders, law enforcement officers, and TSA personnel.”
But Hudson added there was still room for improvement in the agency’s communication with each other in cases of emergency like the 2013 Los Angeles airport shooting.
“While I remain impressed by the planning and execution of incident response at LAX, it is incumbent upon this subcommittee and TSA to ensure that airports of all sizes are aware of best practices in security incident response and are prepared to work together with law enforcement to mitigate such events in the future,” the North Carolina lawmaker said.
“As our nation faces an evolving threat landscape that focuses on soft targets — as was seen in the tragic bombings at the Boston Marathon — we all must recognize the vulnerabilities airports have and the need to be adequately prepared to handle such events,” Hudson continued.
The Los Angeles World Airports agency, which operates LAX, released a report earlier this year that similarly argued there were gaps in communication between emergency responders that could have resulted in more damage if the shooting spree had continued.
Hudson said Thursday that he agreed with the airport authority’s findings.
“I believe that better interoperable communications, regular emergency response and evacuation drills, equipment testing, and well-articulated response plans are the basis for accomplishing this objective,” he said.
“These observations reflect lessons learned from the LAX shooting, as we saw some confusion and delay in establishing an incident command post, communicating effectively between responding agencies, and keeping the public at LAX informed as to what was happening and where they should go,” Hudson continued.
Hudson said a repeat of the LAX shooting or another type of airport security breach could not be prevented solely by the TSA, whose agents are not armed at terminal checkpoints.
“While TSA is responsible for screening passengers and helping to prevent acts of terrorism against the aviation sector, the overall security and safety of the airport environment primarily lies with airport, local, and state law enforcement agencies stationed in and around the airport,” he said.
“Whether it be an active shooter or an individual breaching perimeter security and stowing away in the wheel-well of an aircraft, it is important for the subcommittee to understand the unique challenges facing airport stakeholders and what can be done to detect and respond to perceived and known threats,” Hudson continued.
Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers Association President Marshall McClain told the panel that securing airports was a tough job because they are typically large spaces.
“LAX and many large American airports are their own cities,” McClain said. “Specifically, LAX spans 3,425 square miles and is the third busiest airport in the U.S., serving 165,000 passengers daily, meaning that over 1 million people pass through our airport weekly, which is roughly the entire population of the city of Dallas.”
McClain added that airports were popular targets for terrorists and other violent people who are looking to draw attention.
“Airplane and airports have an indisputable association to terrorism and impactful acts of crime in our world today and airport policing has had to adjust to address the evolution of airlines moving from targets of hijackings to airplanes being used as weapons of mass destruction and airports serving as symbols to those wishing to do harm as a high profile way to make a statement,” he said.
“As such, the nature of airport policing is intertwined with our federal law enforcement partners including the FBI, Customs and Border Protection and airplane based Federal Air Marshals, all of with which we have a long and productive history,” McClain continued. “A key factor to our ability to effectively work together are clear delineations of responsibilities, a mutual underlying respect, and a strong trust in the abilities of our partners to follow protocol and do their jobs.”
McClain defended the performance of Los Angeles airport police on the day of the TSA shooting, despite the call for improvements to inter-agency communications.
“We are well aware that the Nov. 1 shooting could have gone in a very different direction had the shooter been on a different mission,” he said. “We are aware that had he been less methodical; had he been running instead of walking; had he been non-discriminating in targeting the general public and not just TSA; and had his intention been to get to a plane, many more people could have been killed.”
The LAX shooter is believed to have been solely targeting TSA agents, who often face intense criticism for searches of passengers at airport security areas.
McClain called for lawmakers to increase spending on airport security improvements like expanding the use of closed-circuit television, panic buttons and 911 systems to help prevent a similar occurrence.
“While some would make the case that these are complex, highly expensive endeavors, they are not and they should be undertaken,” he said.
“My officers did not fail LAX when it was our time — when it mattered,” McClain continued. “We should expect the same in return and are hopeful that circumstances do not find us back here again or at a hearing at another airport in our country after another incident that could have been mitigated or prevented by common-sense solutions with high-end returns on investments.”