TSA Review Calls for Enhanced Active Shooter Training

By Megan Gates

A Transportation Security Administration review report is calling for enhanced active shooter training along with significant procedural changes to improve security at airport checkpoints nationwide. The call to action comes almost six months after a shooting at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in November 2013, which killed TSA Officer Gerardo I. Hernandez and injured two other officers and a traveler.

The incident marked the first time a TSA employee had been killed in the line of duty since the agency was formed in 2001. In response, TSA Administrator John S. Pistole ordered a comprehensive review of the policies and procedures at LAX and airports across the country. The review was released on March 26 and recommends a wide variety of actions to improve airport security.

Enhanced Training, Communications, and Employee Support

One of the main recommendations of the review was enhanced active shooter training for TSA agents. Previously, it was not mandatory for TSA agents to complete active shooter training, but in December of 2013 the agency changed its approach and issued new requirements. As of March 31, all agents were to have completed three training courses: an active shooter response training course, the “Run, Hide, Fight” course, and an active shooter course developed by FEMA.

Along with these existing courses, the Office of Training and Workforce Engagement (OTWE) is developing active shooter practical exercises and scenarios to be incorporated into a course for all officers. The course will include a planned practical exercise, which will be recorded, allowing officers to review their actions during the exercise and learn from them.

Additionally, OTWE is creating a video on active shooter incidents at checkpoints that will be shown to all officers. It has also established a working group to develop a “facilitator guide to assist field assistant federal security directors for law enforcement in providing best practices and templates for local airport active shooter type exercises,” the review said.

TSA is also “recommending that airport operators conduct active shooter training and exercises on a bi-annual basis to minimize casualties and help direct law enforcement to active shooters,” according to the review.

With the enhanced training, TSA has decided to reinforce emergency procedures at all U.S. airports to ensure that they’re in compliance with the national format. To support this effort, TSA has incorporated a reminder in its weekly shift brief that requires supervisors to conduct briefings for employees on the evacuation routes and rendezvous points identified in the local mitigation plan.

Also, to further ensure that agents and employees are aware of emergency procedures, TSA developed a directive requiring evacuation drills twice a year—including a walk-through of the local evacuation routes and rendezvous points.

Along with these efforts, TSA is providing ongoing access to grief counseling for employees, requiring that Federal Air Marshals be notified of active shooter incidents, and supporting changes to first responder policies to active shooter incidents.

Equipment and Technology

In addition to the enhanced training requirements, the review also called for regularly testing existing notification systems to ensure that they’re fully functional. TSA has followed up the recommendation with a directive requiring alarms be tested weekly.

The review also called for technological improvements to alert notification systems to ensure that duress alarms are present at all screening locations, including terminal lobbies. Currently, not all airports have duress alarms at TSA screening locations and TSA’s Office of Acquisition is in the process of acquiring duress alarms for those lacking systems.

The office “intends to award a delivery order to a third-party systems integrator for the installation of additional duress alarms at airports as needed,” the review said. “Installation will begin shortly after the contract is awarded and contractor proposed installation dates are determined.”

Along with the expansion of duress alarm systems in airports, the review also recommended that airports link duress alarms to CCTV systems. By linking the systems, TSA will “greatly enhance the ability of the airport operator to have a ‘real time’ visual of the area where a duress alarm is activated.”

In addition to the technology changes and recommendations, the review also suggests that TSA use local airport emergency phone numbers. “This guidance is in direct response to learning that calls made to 911 at airports in the event of an emergency may not be routed to the on-site police department,” according to the review. LAX had this problem during the shooting last November and has already made changes so on-site airport police can be reached directly from all TSA VoIP phones. “This new communication solution will address one of the lessons learned from the LAX shooting incident where dialing 911 failed to provide the quickest possible police response,” the review said.

The review included additional recommendations, including increased uniformed officer presence during peak travel times, and TSA is looking for continued feedback from stakeholders. “Many of these ideas were endorsed and incorporated into our action plan,” Pistole said of the review. “We continue to welcome stakeholder and workforce feedback to improve safety and security at airports nationwide.”

For more information or to read the review in full, visit TSA’s Web site here.


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