Wednesday, August 16, 2017
Fort Lauderdale airport unprepared for shooting, outside review finds
By Stephen Hobbs and Megan O'Matz
The South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Broward County released an outside review of the shooting at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
officials weren’t prepared to handle a mass crisis, clashed with law enforcement, and some workers simply didn’t know what to do in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 shooting that left five dead at Fort Lauderdale airport, according to a review by an outside consultant released Tuesday.
The 82-page report found that the Broward Sheriff’s Office overstepped its authority by taking control of duties that should have been left to airport officials. Also faulted: the airport's “inadequate” plans to care for and efficiently evacuate passengers in an emergency.
The review is the latest to reaffirm a Sun Sentinel investigation published in April. The Sheriff's Office in June released a draft evaluation of its own response, also echoing the Sun Sentinel’s findings.
Among the major findings released Tuesday:
-- No one took charge, leading to confusion among law enforcement and travelers.
-- Aviation officials and the Sheriff’s Office failed to coordinate with each other and did not effectively communicate.
-- The airport’s plans for evacuation and sheltering passengers after an incident fell short and should be updated.
-- The airport needs to take the lead in helping passengers, something that has been left to airlines in the past. Airline plans mainly deal with emergencies aboard planes, the report said.
The report urges the aviation industry and society in general to look to its findings to help shape a new model for handling mass events in the new reality of mass attacks in public places.
“Spontaneous, uncontrolled evacuations of this magnitude in large public settings are rare, thus many lessons can be learned,” it says.
The report reiterated how conflicts between airport officials and law enforcement on the day of the shooting hampered response efforts.
For instance, the airport’s emergency operations center was on lockdown by order of the Sheriff’s Office, preventing county officials from leaving and carrying out their duties. A Sheriff’s Office liaison did not show up to assist the county’s emergency operations. And a lack of communication between the agencies led to duplicate requests for resources, such as buses and shelter area, the review found.
The report provided new details about how miscommunication on the day of the mass shooting led to self-induced breakdowns.
In one example, officials at Port Everglades were initially told they needed to accommodate 900 evacuees instead of the approximately 10,000 who were actually bused there.
In another, the report found that agencies responding to the event didn’t understand the impact of their request to close the airport and it wasn’t explained to them. Ripples affected travel operation far beyond Fort Lauderdale.
The report faulted communication to passengers from the airport, too. The current mass notification system does not cover the entire airport, including the ramps, which hindered getting important information to panicked travelers as the day unfolded.
The crisis began when police say Esteban Santiago, then 26, opened fire in the airport’s Terminal 2 after he picked up a gun he had checked on a flight from Alaska.
The shooting was followed by panic in other terminals, as rumors of additional shooters led to stampedes onto the tarmac. Some of those rumors were caused by law enforcement officers yelling unconfirmed reports of shots fired. The panic was worsened by TSA officials running from their posts to the exists as they are trained to do. Approximately 12,000 passengers were displaced, the review found, and many were stuck for hours without food, water or shelter and without timely information about what was happening to them.
The report suggests simple fixes to prevent that from happening again:
-- Consider acquiring earpieces for law enforcement to prevent passengers from hearing the unconfirmed information passed between police over their radios.
-- Rethink TSA’s run-hide-fight training and develop a plan to better handle a situation like the incident in Fort Lauderdale, including a way to resecure checkpoints after a disruption.
-- Develop a better mass notification system to supply constant messaging to airport tenants — such as concessionaires and airlines — the media and the public.
Another recommendation calls for developing an emergency traffic plan to prevent the gridlock that occurred in January, as buses trying to evacuate stranded travelers were delayed and often blocked by police cars hastily parked as officers flooded the airport after the unfounded reports of more shooters.
Broward County commissioners, Sheriff Scott Israel and Aviation Director Mark Gale, among other officials, discussed the report in a closed meeting Tuesday at the county’s offices in downtown Fort Lauderdale.
Gale said the review was essential to show where airport officials responded well and what areas needed to be improved.
“It’s clear that we have some work to do,” Gale said of the report’s 132 recommendations.
The report was prepared by the consulting firm Ross & Baruzzini Inc., which was hired in March to review the county’s response. The complete cost of the company’s review has not been finalized, but according to an agreement it is capped at $314,000.
The report notes several things that went right that day including the quick response of law enforcement and emergency medical resources to the scene of the shootings and the effort to reunite passengers with their personal belongings.
Israel disputed the claim that the Sheriff’s Office circumvented airport officials and that there was a lack of a unified command after the shooting.
“I was proud to be in law enforcement that day,” he said.
The Sheriff’s Office is expected to release its final report soon.