False Alarm or Security Vulnerability?
In the world of travelers fearing attacks on soft targets at public transit stations, no one can be trusted and everyone is suspicious. Within the last two weeks, two major airports have seen widespread panic and confusion following a false alarm of an active shooter in the terminals. These false alarms have shown security professionals that our evacuation plans could be our biggest vulnerability.
On Aug. 14, JFK Airport was sent into a flurry when reports came into 911 of gunshots in the terminals. Over 250 Port Authority police (which run the airport) and about as many New York police flooded the scene, immediately evacuating two terminals.
Thousands of travelers were stampeded as they tried to find a place to hunker down. Many we squished into dead end hallways while others ran as fast as they could outside the airport. TSA agents abandoned their posts while yelling out to travelers, “Fear for your lives!”
All the panic was for nothing when the police finally finished sweeping the reported areas. There was no active shooter and the reports of “loud noises” came from a crowd cheering on athletes while watching the Olympic Games.
This scene was still fresh in the minds of many when a very similar event happened on the opposite coast. On Aug. 28, false reports of gunfire resulted in panic again as travelers at Los Angeles International felt the need to “fight for their lives.”
Travelers fled away from the terminals and breached security by passing through secure doors onto airfields and roads, forcing authorities to stop flights and send all travelers back through checkpoints.
Soon, police were able to confirm that there was not an active shooter and no gunshots had been fired. They did, however, arrest a person dressed in a Zorro costume that was brandishing a plastic sword.
Now, Homeland Security’s biggest rule is, “If you see something, say something,” but what happens when that “something” is sending international airport travelers running for the hills? Is there a way to create procedures that are able to calm those in the alleged area of an active shooter?
For now, Homeland Security has no answers, but it is apparent that security personnel did not give enough direction, or protection, to those rushing others in the airports. These evacuations became the blind leading the blind. These insufficient protocols are, in and out of themselves, a security vulnerability in an event that holds enough stress on its own.
These false alarms need to be examined and used to educate security officials on the public’s reaction to an active shooter. This is the time to step up the security game, especially with the 15th anniversary of 9/11 around the corner. It seems passengers are already enough on edge.
Posted by Sydny Shepard on Aug 30, 2016