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LAX shooting evacuation: Why were passengers left so long without information?

Passengers wait for their flights after a shooting at LAX on November 1st, 2013.
Mae Ryan/KPCC
Passengers wait for their flights after a shooting at LAX on November 1st, 2013.

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Los Angeles city Councilman Mike Bonin, whose district includes Los Angeles International Airport, wants to know why passengers evacuated during the shooting incident on Nov. 1 were left in the dark for so long after being asked to evacuate Terminal 3.

When a gunman attacked a checkpoint in the terminal, wounding several and killing a Transportation Security Administration officer, thousands of passengers streamed into the streets surrounding the airport.

“On Friday, there were many passengers who didn’t know what to do," said Bonin. "They were outside with their luggage or wandering. There were very few folks outside the command post who knew what information to share with them or what direction to give them.”

Bonin says LAX Commissioners have already started reviewing what should be done differently. He has asked for a full report within 45 days.

A terse announcement delivered over loudspeakers minutes after Friday's shooting at Los Angeles International Airport told passengers to evacuate, but not much not much else.

RELATED: KPCC coverage of the LAX shooting

“We have an active shooting in Terminal 3," the announcement said. "We do not have any information ourselves. We apologize for not giving you any information.”

Hours later there wasn't much more information, as thousands of passengers streamed into the streets.

"People are getting on edge because they've been here for hours,"  said passenger Marcus Dardan, who was forced to evacuate. "There's a lot of people who don't know what's going on."

Bonin is quick to praise police for stopping the gunman and getting passengers quickly out of harm’s way. He’s also impressed LAX was able to re-open so quickly.

But he says even airport officials now admit there are gaps in emergency planning, especially when it comes to communication.

“It’s those holes that we want to plug to make sure that our handling of stranded passengers in an emergency situation is as effective as our law enforcement response was,” said Bonin.

Evacuation plans

KPCC has requested information from LAX and LAX Police on what evacuation plans were in place and how they were handled following the shooting, but LAX has referred all questions to airport police, who haven’t commented.

Aviation security consultant Jeff Price – who has worked with LAX – cautioned to be careful about Monday-morning quarterbacking.

“The challenge an airport faces in trying to police up everyone after an evacuation is because it’s a crime scene; we don’t know if it’s done,” said Price.

Price says the FAA requires airports to have plans in place for evacuating terminals and getting passengers back into terminals if a fire alarm goes off.

But what about after passengers who evacuate because of a threat? 

“This is really one of the first times in the industry we’ve had to deal with something at this level," said Price. "So, there’s going to be a lot of lessons learned about what you do when the active shooting is over.”