A Firsthand Account of the Chaotic Aftermath of LAX Shooting

Second, and perhaps more important, since the Mumbai terrorist attacks of 2008, in which just ten men crippled the city, killing more than 150 people and wounding hundreds more, the LAPD and LAFD have been training in ways to respond if a similar attack were to be carried out in Los Angeles.  One of the principles of that training is to avoid concentrating resources at a single incident in the expectation that others may arise elsewhere in the sprawling city.  Also, a known tactic among terrorists is to stage an initial attack to lure a massive response from police and fire personnel, then attack those first responders with a second, larger attack.  At LAX on Friday, the upper roadway on the airport’s north side was choked with police officers, firefighters, and their vehicles.  If it had been a terrorist attack, all of those people and all of that equipment would have made for a fat target for a follow-up attack.  (See, for example, some of the photos in this slide show at the CNN website.)

And again, little of that equipment and few of those people were needed to address a situation that had long since been controlled.  Fewer than ten patients were transported to hospitals, yet dozens of ambulances and fire engines were dispatched into the airport.  And though many, many police officers were needed to control traffic around the airport, this was only because of the poor decision to keep the airport shut down for as long as it was.  The crime scene inside Terminal 3 could have been isolated within an hour of the shooting, and the remainder of the airport could have resumed normal operations if only someone in command had asked the simple question, “What do we have?”  Instead, thousands of bewildered passengers in terminals unaffected by the shooting were sent out into the streets with no understanding of where to go or what to do.

The ripple effects of this are still being felt across the country and the world.  Airplanes that didn’t take off from Los Angles weren’t available in Dallas and Chicago to take passengers to Philadelphia and Charlotte; an arrival from London diverted to another airport wasn’t available to take passengers from L.A. to Sydney, and so on.  As when severe weather shuts down traffic at O’Hare or Dallas-Fort Worth, it will be days before the air traffic system recovers from the disruption, most of which could and should have been avoided.

The police at the airport had the duty to end the attack as quickly as possible.  This done, they then had the additional duty to minimize the shooting’s impact on the rest of the airport and the wider world.  The two cops who traded shots with the suspect did their job expertly.  Sadly, the police brass who descended on the airport in droves failed to do as well.  It was chaos, but it didn’t have to be.