LAX shooting review: Flaws in emergency communications


When suspect Paul Ciancia walked into LAX Terminal 3 on November 1 and allegedly began firing a high-powered rifle, a TSA screening supervisor picked up an emergency "red phone," but the woman fled as the suspect approached. The dispatcher on the other end had no information and the phone did not indicate its location.

Police officers were not dispatched to the scene until 90 seconds after the shooting began.

Panic buttons installed in Terminal 3 were found to be defective. Two of approximately 12 in the terminal were not working. Pressing the button is supposed to call for help and activate a camera to record the scene. Later testing, the report says, found another terminal's entire panic-button system was down. Airport police beefed up patrols until it was fixed, an official who was briefed on the report's preliminary findings.

Two sources of information spoke on condition of anonymity because the final report will not be released until March.

An airline contractor working in the terminal called dispatch directly from his cellphone and provided the location. Officers were sent nearly 90 seconds after the shooting started.

A spokeswoman for Los Angeles World Airport, the agency that runs LAX, provided a statement but did not address whether the emergency phone system has been updated to automatically provide a location.

"While we won't get into specifics as it relates to security, we are inspecting these systems daily to ensure they are working properly. If they are not, we fix them as quickly as possible," Mary Grady said via an email. "We constantly look for ways to improve or enhance our capabilities in this area."

The phone and panic button problems are the latest issues to emerge from the review of the emergency response to the incident. The Associated Press previously reported that the only two armed officers on duty in Terminal 3 were out of position when the shooting began, and medical help wasn't quickly provided to the TSA officer who was the only fatality.

California state Assemblyman Freddie Rodriguez, D-Pomona, will hold a hearing Friday in Los Angeles before the Assembly Select Committee on Local Emergency Preparedness to review the LAX shooting. Rodriguez chairs the panel.

The attack killed TSA Officer Gerardo Hernandez, the first on-duty fatality in the agency's history, and injured two other TSA officers and a passenger.

Paul Ciancia, 24, who'd moved from Pennsville, N.J., to Los Angeles two years prior, is accused of targeting TSA officers. He has pleaded not guilty to 11 federal charges, including murder of a federal officer.

The broad review of the emergency response included interviews with airport staff, law enforcement and first responders, reviews of camera footage, dispatch logs and 911 calls. While it found that the response was swift, the investigation conducted by airport staff and an outside contractor identified a number of problems. Among them:

- Anyone calling 911 at the airport is routed to the California Highway Patrol or Los Angeles Police Department, not airport police dispatchers.

- The airport has no system allowing for simultaneous emergency announcements throughout the complex.

- Most cameras in the terminal provided fixed and often limited views of areas or weren't located at key spots such as curbs, making it difficult for investigators to learn how and where the gunman arrived at the airport.

Earlier AP reporting revealed that the two armed officers assigned to the area of the shooting weren't in Terminal 3 at the time. Both were on breaks and had yet to notify dispatchers, as required, so neither was in position to call in the shooting.

Once dispatchers put out the call for help 90 seconds later, it took nearly two more minutes before armed officers arrived. Ciancia was shot and taken into custody near gate 35, deep inside the terminal, soon afterward.

The AP also found that it took 33 minutes for Hernandez to be wheeled out of the terminal to waiting medical personnel because the area wasn't declared safe to enter. He was pronounced dead at the hospital after surgeons worked on him for an hour. A coroner's news release later said he likely was dead within two to five minutes after being shot multiple times.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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