Congressional subcommittee to hold Friday hearing at the airport on public safety breakdowns during Nov. 1 rampage

By Gary Walker

Members of a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee on transportation security plan to call two top LAX officials — Los Angeles World Airports Executive Director Gina Marie Lindsey and LAX Police Chief Patrick Gannon —  to testify Friday at a congressional hearing about public safety missteps during the Nov. 1 shooting spree at the airport.

The hearing, which will be held at LAX, comes after last week’s release of an 83-page “active shooter review”  that was critical of the airport’s emergency alert system, public mass notification system and difficulties in interagency communication and found an emergency phone and two panic buttons were not working at the time of the shooting.

Alleged shooter Paul Ciancia, 24, is charged with killing Transportation Security Administration officer Gerardo Hernandez and wounding three others during the early morning rampage at Terminal 3. The airport was shut down for 30 hours in the aftermath and over 250 flights were canceled. Ciancia has pleaded not guilty.

The TSA and Los Angeles Work Airports, the agency that oversees LAX, have each conducted assessments of the shooting.

TSA Administrator John Pistole is also expected to testify during the hearing and review findings of those reports with members of Congress, according to a Homeland Security advisory obtained by The Argonaut.

The active shooter review, authored by a pair of consulting firms, praised public safety officers for preventing additional fatalities but was critical of communications failures. According to the report, airport officials spent $5.4 million in 2011 on a new high-tech radio system that was frequently unable to communicate with other responding agencies.

“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,” the report states.

Marshall McClain, president of the Los Angeles Airport Police Association, said his union was not consulted on the active shooter review. “We were a little taken aback by that,” he said.

But McClain said he was “pleased” the report spotlighted what he called poor communication between law enforcement groups.

McClain blamed Lindsey for the failure of the alert system, saying that she has placed too much attention on the restructuring of the Tom Bradley International Terminal at the expense of maintaining airport-wide emergency alert and notification systems.

“We have a general manager who has created more fiefdoms [rather] than an emergency management system that functions properly,” McClain said. “With 165,000 to 175,000 passengers a day, how do you not think a 911 system should be a priority?”

In response to calls for Lindsey, Los Angeles World Airports staff referred to a memo she wrote to the airport board stressing the importance of examining all airport functions in the wake of the shooting.

“It is incumbent upon all of us at Los Angeles World Airports to take a clear-eyed, detailed look at every aspect of this incident to identify any action that we might undertake that could prevent a similar occurrence,” Lindsey wrote.

Recommendations in the review specified measures airport employees could undertake “that could prevent a similar occurrence, enable us to better manage emergency events, and harness all available resources to ensure appropriate customer care during prolonged operational disruptions,” Lindsey continued.

At a March 18 press conference at LAX, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti credited public safety first responders for their rapid response but also criticized the lack of coordination between the various law enforcement agencies.

“The biggest failure was our lack of communications,” Garcetti told reporters.  “We’re lucky that the shooting didn’t take more lives. … We got lucky that day.”

Rep. Maxine Waters (D- Los Angeles), whose district includes Westchester and LAX, expressed outrage that the automated communications system did not function properly on Nov. 1.

“I am shocked and dismayed by the revelations,” reads a statement by Waters. “This report is an embarrassment. LAWA spends $125 million on security every year. With this level of investment, LAX should have a state-of-the-art emergency response system.”

The report, Waters continued, “explains how problems in coordination between various police and fire departments resulted in multiple command posts at different locations that did not unify for 45 minutes.”

A spokeswoman for Waters said she plans to attend the hearing.

The review also criticized airport officials for not being ready to arrange overnight accommodations for passengers whose flights were cancelled because of the shooting

Thousands of passengers were stranded during the 30 hours that the airport was shut down. Several decided to seek hotel rooms on their own and many who were interviewed later said they received no direction or assistance from the airport.

 gary(at)argonautnews.com

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