Phone System Failed in LAX Shooting

LOS ANGELES (AP) -

A Los Angeles International Airport police dispatcher who received a call seconds after a gunman opened fire last year didn’t know where to send officers because no one was on the line and the airport communications system didn’t identify that the call was from a security checkpoint emergency phone, two officials told The Associated Press.

A screening supervisor in the sprawling airport’s Terminal 3 picked up the phone but fled before responding to a dispatcher’s questions because the gunman was approaching with a high-powered rifle and spraying bullets, according to two officials briefed on preliminary findings of a review of the emergency response. They spoke only on condition of anonymity because the final report won’t be released until next month.

One of the officials likened the situation to a 911 call but police not knowing what address to go to. Airport dispatchers knew something was wrong but didn’t know where to send help because the system didn’t identify locations of its emergency phones.

After asking questions and receiving no answers, the dispatcher hung up. An airline contractor working in the terminal called dispatch directly from his cellphone, and officers were dispatched 90 seconds after the shooting started.

Douglas Laird, a former security director for Northwest Airlines who owns an aviation security consulting business, was surprised to learn of the issue with the emergency phone. Most systems he’s seen indicate the origin of a call.

If “dispatch doesn’t know where the call is coming from, that shows there’s a serious flaw, obviously,” said Laird, who has conducted security surveys at about 100 airports around the world. He was not involved in the review of the LA airport shooting.

Officials with Los Angeles World Airport, the agency that runs LAX, declined to comment on any aspects of the review until the report is issued next month.

The review also found broken “panic buttons.” Those devices are supposed to automatically call for help and activate a camera giving airport police a view of the area reporting trouble. Two of the dozen or so buttons in Terminal 3 weren’t working and several others around the airport were defective.