Po­lice contributed to air­port panic, re­view says

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - LOCAL NEWS - By Tom Hays and Michael Bal­samo

Poor com­mu­ni­ca­tion among po­lice, pri­vate se­cu­rity and other per­son­nel contributed to a mass panic that erupted at a New York City air­port when loud cheers for Usain Bolt some­how led to a false re­port of gun­shots, ac­cord­ing to a re­view by a team of top se­cu­rity of­fi­cials.

Pas­sen­gers at Kennedy Air­port ran for the ex­its on Aug. 14 af­ter cheer­ing at a ter­mi­nal bar dur­ing the Olympics was mis­taken for some­thing sin­is­ter. Panic spread to two other ter­mi­nals when news of a gun­man spread on so­cial media, and po­lice re­sponded by draw­ing their weapons.

A let­ter from the of­fi­cials to Gov. An­drew Cuomo and Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Jeh John­son, made pub­lic on Mon­day, blamed both air­port em­ploy­ees and law en­force­ment for fu­el­ing the hys­te­ria by over­re­act­ing to sev­eral mis­taken re­ports of gun­shots, in­stead of seek­ing to calm trav­el­ers.

Among the more glar­ing mis­steps: At the height of the chaos, the flight crew of a Korean Air jet­liner de­ployed evac­u­a­tion chutes, “pro­duc­ing a ‘pop­ping’ sound that may have been mis­taken for gun­fire.” The of­fi­cials also said that in the end, the air­port had no ef­fi­cient way to let trav­el­ers know the threat wasn’t real.

Since the Sept. 11 at­tacks, “the specter of ter­ror­ism has em­bed­ded it­self in the na­tional psy­che and cre­ated a per­sis­tent, abid­ing ten­sion that can­not be ig­nored,” the let­ter con­cluded. “Co­or­di­na­tion and train­ing ... is ab­so­lutely fun­da­men­tal to prop­erly ad­dress this new par­a­digm.”

Cuomo or­dered the re­view af­ter the episode raised ques­tions about the abil­ity of the Port Au­thor­ity of New York and New Jersey, which runs the air­port, to re­spond to an ac­tual ter­ror at­tack.

“The events at JFK were a wake-up call to re­think and reeval­u­ate our se­cu­rity pro­ce­dures to re­flect the new, chang­ing re­al­ity of 21st cen­tury threats and to bet­ter en­sure the safety of all New York­ers,” the gov­er­nor said in a state­ment Mon­day.

A re­view of se­cu­rity video and 911 calls found that the chain-re­ac­tion scare be­gan with a call about a dis­tur­bance at a cafe, where trav­el­ers were watch­ing TVs show­ing Usain Bolt sprint to a gold medal vic­tory in the Olympics. Sev­eral calls that fol­lowed re­ported shots fired in the same ter­mi­nal, the let­ter said.

Af­ter spot­ting Port Au­thor­ity po­lice of­fi­cers pull their weapons and move to­ward the com­mo­tion, Trans­porta­tion Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion agents be­gan head­ing for the emer­gency ex­its, it said. Pas­sen­gers fol­lowed their lead, with some even flee­ing onto the tar­mac.

“See­ing TSA agents run­ning away and PAPD with guns drawn cre­ated ob­vi­ous fear and panic,” it said. As the re­sult of the self-evac­u­a­tion, “se­cure ar­eas were com­pro­mised, which left the ter­mi­nals, tar­mac and air­planes vul­ner­a­ble to a pos­si­ble ter­ror­ist at­tack or other il­le­gal con­duct,” it added.

Over the next 90 min­utes, a to­tal of 275 of­fi­cers — 88 from the Port Au­thor­ity and 187 from the New York Po­lice Depart­ment — re­sponded to the calls be­fore au­thor­i­ties de­ter­mined there was no ev­i­dence of a shooter, the re­view con­cluded.

Among the rec­om­men­da­tions by the se­cu­rity of­fi­cials is set­ting up a cen­tral com­mand cen­ter at JFK manned by the rep­re­sen­ta­tives from each se­cu­rity en­tity. The cen­ter “should have ac­cess to closed-cir­cuit tele­vi­sion feeds and the abil­ity to make an­nounce­ments to a ter­mi­nal or the en­tire air­port from a cen­tral lo­ca­tion,” the let­ter said.

Port Au­thor­ity Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Pat Foye said the agency was “com­mit­ted to pro­vid­ing co­or­di­nated train­ing and drills rec­og­niz­ing the needs and strengths of all agen­cies, and to make in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal com­mu­ni­ca­tions seam­less.”

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