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Authorities Should Have Prevented the Panic at Fort Lauderdale Airport

What’s the price of a rumor? In the case of last week’s shooting at the Fort Lauderdale airport, it may have risen into the millions of dollars.

On Sunday, the New York Times reported on the panic and confusion that ensued after Friday’s shooting, when a man opened fire in the baggage claim area of Terminal 2. After killing five people and wounding eight others, the man dropped his weapon and surrendered to responding sheriff’s deputies.

As horrific as it was, the violence was brief and confined to a relatively small area in one of the airport’s four terminals. But that didn’t prevent the entire airport from being shut down, leaving both arriving and departing passengers unnecessarily stranded and inconvenienced for hours and causing disruptions to airline traffic that took days to sort out. All of that could have -- and should have -- been avoided.

It’s not as though there had never been a shooting at an American airport before. On Nov. 1, 2013, a man opened fire inside Terminal 3 at Los Angeles International Airport, killing a TSA agent and wounding others. The shooting began outside the security checkpoint but continued inside the terminal before the gunman was wounded by police gunfire. I was among the hundreds of police officers who responded to the incident, an experience I described at the time here on PJ Media.

As was the case in Fort Lauderdale last week, the scene at LAX was one of chaos and confusion, with the airport shut down for hours while hapless travelers sought safety from rumored but nonexistent threats, then were left to wonder about what was happening and wander about in search of a way out of the airport. And, like in Fort Lauderdale, airline traffic was disrupted, with the effects lasting for days.

In Los Angeles, I witnessed firsthand the paralysis in the LAX command post, where brass from the LAPD, FBI, LAX Police Department, FBI, ATF, U.S. Customs, and any number of other agencies seemed to conspire to add to the confusion. Police resources were dispatched to the airport without clear instructions on what to do when they arrived, and many of the officers spent the next several hours standing around with nothing to do, or else spent the time searching the airport for other gunmen when there was no reason to believe any such existed.

The lessons of that incident clearly were not learned by officials in Fort Lauderdale. As described in the New York Times story, after Friday’s shooting:

The airport had largely returned to its normal rhythm -- passengers were noshing, charging their phones, watching television. Things were so sedate that [a traveler] did not even realize there had been a shooting.