I have spent the better part of the day talking to various media outlets about the shooting at Los Angeles international Airport.
First, our thoughts go out to the TSA and other personnel who were injured and particularly the Behavior Detection Officer who died in the line of duty, and to the responders, passengers and others who had to deal with this situation first hand.
Now lets answer some questions:
How was an individual able to get so far into the airport with a gun?
From the reports so far, the individual was in a public area when the shooting started. Being in the public area of an airport is fundamentally no different than being in the public area anywhere else whether it is a shopping mall, the beach, a park or walking the streets of any downtown. While many airports have restrictions on bringing firearms even into the public area there is not much that can be done prior to the screening checkpoint to enforce such a restriction. Active and observant law enforcement personnel in the public areas is the best deterrent to this type of crime and the best response. LAX has active, observant and highly trained police officers, but they can’t be in all places all the time.
Why don’t we push the screening checkpoints out farther?
Moving the screening checkpoints just relocates the issue. You have to have a public area somewhere or pretty soon you’re standing on the curb waiting to be screened. Then someone can just open fire outside. Checkpoint location doesn’t really solve this problem.
Does this mean that airport security does not work?
Absolutely not. In fact it demonstrates that a layered security system is effective. The individual was apparently able to get through a layer of security, the screening checkpoint, but was stopped by law enforcement before they were able to access an aircraft. Also, through the rapid response of the LAX police force further loss of life was averted.
How can you say the system works when people were hurt and one was killed?
There is very little to prevent somebody from walking up to another person and pulling out a gun and shooting them, anywhere in the United States, much less at an airport. In fact, to a certain extent people are safer in the airport because of the presence of law enforcement. Next time you’re at an airport, look around for the police – you should see at least one and possibly if you’re at a larger airport. Then count how many police officers are walking around your local park, shopping mall or other public space. You will note a delta. And LAX takes airport security to another level by equipping many of their officers with automatic weapons, doing extensive active shooter training and using vehicle search checkpoints, along with other procedures that are behind-the-scenes that many people never see.
So what’s next in airport security?
I expect we will see an initial increased awareness and more law enforcement presence around screening checkpoints and in the public areas, for a a while. This is not the first time this type of event has happened at an airport nor is it the first time it is happened at Los Angeles. In 1972 at the Lod Airport (now Ben Gurion) in Israel, members of the Japanese Red Army, recruited by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, opened fire in the baggage claim areas of the airport. In 1985 in Rome and Vienna active shooter incidents happened at both airports. In 2002, at LAX, a man opened fire at the LAX El Al ticket counter and was quickly killed by an Israeli security officer. I’ve noted other incidents in the textbook, Practical Aviation Security: Predicting and Preventing Future Threats.
In Rome, if you travel there today, you will see a catwalk above the public areas and personnel with automatic weapons watching the crowds. A valid question to ask is: are we at that level of threat here in the United States? That will be determined by the US intelligence agencies, TSA in the FBI, and ultimately Homeland Security. If this was just a lone gunman, upset at something in the world, rather than being part of some sort of larger force of attackers we have yet to see, then it is likely that in a month or so we will be pretty much back to “ops normal” at most US airports. This incident will be chalked up as yet in another long line of attacks on aviation. We’ll learn, adjust and move forward. If it is determined that more attacks like this are likely, then look for significant changes in the months to come.
How did LAX do in their response?
From what I have seen and heard so far I think they did an outstanding job. LAX has a dedicated police force, with armed and sworn officers who are highly trained, not just in law enforcement operations but also airport policing and incident response. The best that can be done when an unexpected attack like this happens is a rapid response. You want to end the situation as soon as possible to prevent the further loss of life, and in this case I think they did an excellent job.
I welcome your questions either here or on LinkedIn.