Report criticizes LAX shooting response; union calls for armed TSA officers

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Communications breakdowns and a lack of coordination hindered response efforts during last year’s shooting rampage at Los Angeles International Airport, according to an independent review of the incident.

The report, released Tuesday, said paramedics took 33 minutes to reach slain Transportation Security Agency officer Gerardo Hernandez, 39. An autopsy revealed that the federal employee died two to five minutes after being shot. He was the first TSA agent to be killed the line of duty.

The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents TSA officers, responded to the report with renewed calls for a new unit of armed TSA officers who could help protect airport checkpoints around the clock.

Federal Diary: How should airport security officers be protected while they protect us?


(REUTERS/Kevork Djansezian)

The review said agencies lacked the ability to communicate with each other by radio during the shooting incident, saying “each was unaware of what the others were doing.” It found that emergency responders took 45 minutes to establish a unified command after first setting up separate staging areas, and that emergency phones and panic alarms were not working properly.

The report did not say whether any of the problems contributed to Hernandez’s death. However, it called for new tactical medical personnel who would care for victims and evacuate them while active shooters are still on the loose, in addition to recommending daily checks of emergency phones and panic buttons.

AFGE said the lack of coordination between agencies was unacceptable. The union also criticized the report’s recommendations as “incomplete and off-target,” saying they would not go far enough to bolster checkpoint security.

“Reports and policy Band-Aids will not be enough to address the yawning gaps in screening area security,” said AFGE national president J. David Cox. “We need to do more than learn from these mistakes at LAX – we need to take the difficult steps across the country that are necessary to stop them from happening again.”

In addition to its recommendation to arm certain TSA officers, the union also called for better equipment and plans for more coordinated emergency responses in the future.

“TSOs should not have to fear for their lives every day they come to work,” Cox said. “They need to know that when an emergency arises, that panic button will work and an armed law enforcement officer is present at the checkpoint to neutralize the threat.”

The shooting spree last November killed Hernandez and wounded three other people at the airport. Federal prosecutors have charged Paul Anthony Ciancia with murder for allegedly killing the TSA officer.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), whose district includes the airport, described the report as an embarassment. “Los Angeles World Airports spends $125 million on security every year,” she said in a statement. “With this level of investment, LAX should have a state-of-the-art emergency response system.” 

Follow Josh Hicks on TwitterFacebook or Google+. Connect by e-mail at  josh.hicks@washpost.comVisit The Federal Eye, The Fed Page and Post Politics for more federal news. E-mail federalworker@washpost.com with news tips and other suggestions.

Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.
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