US lawmakers discuss attack at Los Angeles airport

TAMI ABDOLLAH, Associated Press
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(AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

(AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Members of Congress and local officials met Friday at Los Angeles International Airport to discuss lessons learned from an attack last fall that killed a security officer and injured three other people.

The hearing before the House Committee on Homeland Security’s subcommittee on transportation security was convened after the airport operator issued a report last week highlighting major lapses in the emergency response to the shooting.

Subcommittee members toured the terminal where the attack occurred and met with the widow of the fallen security officer before beginning their discussion, which also was expected to include the findings of a Transportation Security Administration report this week reviewing security at nearly 450 airports nationwide.

U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., said in his opening remarks that the reports exposed significant weaknesses in the ability of local and federal personnel to coordinate in an emergency — “weaknesses I suspect in other airports across the country.”

Paul Ciancia is accused of targeting TSA officers in his attack, killing Officer Gerardo Hernandez and wounding two other officers and a passenger. The Pennsville, N.J., native has pleaded not guilty to 11 federal charges, including murder of a federal officer. Hernandez was the TSA’s first line-of-duty death.

The TSA report made 14 recommendations to improve airport security, including more training on active shooter response; technological upgrades such as a greater number and more high-tech panic alarms at airports; and an armed law enforcement presence at checkpoints and ticket counters during peak hours.

The report by Los Angeles World Airports, which operates LAX, found that lapses in communication and coordination led to delays in responding to the gunman and providing aid to victims.

The Associated Press earlier reported that Hernandez did not receive medical aid until 33 minutes after he was shot multiple times. He was pronounced dead after surgeons worked for an hour at a hospital. A coroner’s release later said he was likely dead within two to five minutes.

TSA Administrator John Pistole testified at the hearing along with the airport’s Executive Director Gina Marie Lindsey, LAX Police Chief Patrick Gannon and J. David Cox Sr., national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 45,000 TSA officers.

Airports are run by local operators, and because each airport is different, each is responsible for creating its own security plan that must be approved by TSA. The agency has general guidelines that airport plans must meet. Airport differences mean there’s also a lack of consistency in security provided to TSA officers, who aren’t armed.

The TSA review found that officers were concerned about their safety and wanted more done to improve their security.

The TSA national union renewed its call at the hearing for the agency to create its own unit of armed law enforcement to ensure consistent security of its officers at airports.

“This is not a call for arming of TSA officers,” Cox said. “Current law enforcement operations have gaps and inconsistencies that leave TSOs and passengers vulnerable.”

Both reports noted systemic flaws, but neither assigned responsibility to any person for failures on Nov. 1, the day of the attack.

The airport’s review also didn’t mention an earlier AP report that found the two armed airport police officers assigned to Terminal 3 were out of position when the shooting started without notifying dispatchers as required by department policy.

Hudson said at the hearing that the airport’s report “conspicuously” leaves out mention of where the two officers where when shots rang out.

“I believe the location of these officers is crucial to understanding the viability of” roaming officers, Hudson said, especially without good interagency communication.

LAX Police Chief Gannon testified that even with an airport police officer posted at the checkpoint Hernandez’s death could not have been prevented and in some circumstances a fixed officer might be more vulnerable to an attack.

Hudson plans to have a second hearing in Washington to ensure lessons are followed up on and applied nationally.

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Read the reports:

Los Angeles World Airports: http://bit.ly/1gvJPnx

Transportation Security Administration: http://1.usa.gov/1rHFcLw

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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