- Associated Press - Friday, March 28, 2014

LOS ANGELES (AP) - U.S. lawmakers pressed airport and security officials Friday about problems responding to the Los Angeles International Airport shooting last year and said the incident illuminated similar gaps that needed to be addressed at airports across the nation.

The hearing at LAX before a House transportation security subcommittee was marked by pointed questions about preparedness and the deployment of officers after two recent reports were critical of airport security and the emergency response.

Before the hearing began, lawmakers and the administrator of the Transportation Security Administration retraced the gunman’s steps through Terminal 3 and met with the widow of Officer Gerardo Hernandez, who was killed in the Nov. 1 attack targeting TSA officers. Two other officers and a passenger were also wounded.

The discussion at the hearing included the findings of a TSA report this week that reviewed security at nearly 450 airports nationwide.

U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., said the two recent reports exposed significant weaknesses in the ability of local and federal personnel to coordinate in an emergency - “weaknesses I suspect in other airports across the country.”

Hudson said he plans to have a second hearing in Washington to ensure lessons are followed up on and applied nationally, and that a clear timetable is established for reforms.

Paul Ciancia is accused of targeting TSA officers in the attack. The Pennsville, N.J., native has pleaded not guilty to 11 federal charges, including murder of a federal officer. Hernandez was the TSA’s first line-of-duty death.

The TSA report made 14 recommendations to improve airport security, including more training on active shooter response; technological upgrades such as a greater number and more high-tech panic alarms at airports; and an armed law enforcement presence at checkpoints and ticket counters during peak hours.

Implementing many of the recommendations would be up to local airport operators.

Because airports are different, each is responsible for creating its own security plan that must be approved by TSA. The agency has general guidelines for airports, but the differences mean there’s a lack of consistency in security provided to TSA officers, who aren’t armed.

J. David Cox Sr., national president of the American Federation of Government Employees which represents 45,000 TSA officers, said he was disappointed the hearing before the subcommittee of the Homeland Security Committee concluded without a plan to improve checkpoint security. The union has renewed its call for the agency to create its own unit of armed law enforcement officers to ensure consistent security of its officers at airports.

“This is not a call for the arming of TSA officers,” Cox told lawmakers. “Current law enforcement operations have gaps and inconsistencies that leave TSOs and passengers vulnerable.”

Under federal law, the administrator of the TSA can designate its employees as law enforcement officers, which would allow them to carry weapons. Pistole, however, said during the hearing that he doesn’t believe more guns at checkpoints are the answer.

“We’re trying to protect against something that happened once, that may never happen again,” he told The Associated Press after the hearing, adding that creating an armed unit of TSA officers would involve cost and logistical issues.

The report by Los Angeles World Airports, which operates LAX, found that lapses in communication and coordination led to delays in responding to the gunman and providing aid to victims.

Story Continues →