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Written testimony of TSA Administrator John Pistole for a House Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Transportation Security field hearing titled “Lessons from the LAX Shooting: Preparing for and Responding to Emergencies at Airports”

Release Date: 
March 28, 2014

Los Angeles, California

Good morning Chairman Hudson, Ranking Member Richmond, and other members of the Committee. I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today.

On November 1, 2013, Gerardo Hernandez, a 39-year-old Transportation Security Officer (TSO), was shot and killed while stationed at a Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoint. Officer Hernandez had worked for TSA since 2010 and was a well-liked and respected employee. He leaves behind a wife and two children.

Behavior Detection Officer (BDO) Tony Grigsby, Security Training Instructor (STI) James Speer, and a passenger were also wounded in the shooting. Both BDO Grigsby and STI Speer stayed at the checkpoint to assist an elderly passenger, placing themselves in harm’s way.

The events of November 1st demonstrated the bravery of our frontline workforce as well as their commitment to TSA’s mission of protecting the Nation’s transportation systems in order to ensure freedom of movement for people and commerce. The incident also highlighted the excellence of our security partners. We are thankful for the exceptional work of the Los Angeles World Airports Police Department, whose officers quickly responded to the scene and apprehended the alleged shooter. We are also thankful for our partners at the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, who continue to investigate and prosecute the crime, and for the continued support from this Committee and others for Officer Hernandez’s loved ones, his fellow officers at LAX, and our agency as a whole.

In the immediate aftermath of the incident, I took a number of actions, including assembling a crisis action team to advise me and to ensure appropriate communication with the workforce regarding the event. We sent a situational report to all employees the day of the shooting advising them of the details known at the time. TSA increased the visibility of uniformed officers in and around checkpoints by deploying Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) teams to the aviation sector and by ensuring that state and local airport law enforcement agencies provided an enhanced deployment of uniformed officers in and around checkpoints.

I also called for a comprehensive review of TSA policies, procedures, and training to identify possible improvements to safety and security for TSA employees serving to protect the public at our Nation’s airports. TSA convened a team of subject matter experts from across the agency, and we engaged stakeholders and our workforce to elicit recommendations and feedback. I would like to summarize our stakeholder and workforce outreach, and then outline the results of the review in the following areas: (1) training, communications, and employee support; (2) emergency response equipment and technology; and (3) law enforcement officer (LEO) presence at and response to checkpoints.

Stakeholder and Workforce Engagement

After meeting with the family of Officer Hernandez and our two wounded officers the day after the shooting, one of my first actions was to convene stakeholder meetings at TSA Headquarters on November 7, 2013 and January 8, 2014, which included representatives from law enforcement agencies and associations, labor groups and industry associations, and other federal, state, and local agencies. At these meetings, I requested recommendations for actions the agency could take as well as initial feedback on various ideas under consideration. TSA afforded stakeholders an additional opportunity to provide feedback through written comments to be provided within 30 days of the second meeting. I considered these comments in my decision-making process and development of supplemental proposals.

I likewise sought the input of TSA employees, through both town hall meetings and the Idea Factory1. I have also communicated regularly with the workforce on the status of the security review via written and video messages as well as shift briefs, emphasizing that every possible effort to ensure officer safety is being considered and implemented, if feasible and appropriate, and encouraging workforce input. Employees from all levels of the organization contributed ideas, including Federal Security Directors (FSDs), TSOs, staff from Training and Coordination Centers, security inspectors, and headquarters employees. The ideas generated by employees were presented to leadership and a number of them were endorsed. TSA continues to welcome stakeholder and workforce feedback as we remain engaged in advancing further recommendations.


1 The Idea Factory is a web-based tool designed to enable innovation and collaboration within the agency by soliciting employee feedback on TSA policies. The Idea Factory has led to the implementation of more than 40 innovative ideas, including changes to Standard Operating Procedures and new initiatives that have improved job satisfaction, increased retention and improved the quality of work life. To date, there are almost 9,000 ideas on the site and more than 25,000 employees have visited the site.

 

Training, Communications, and Employee Support

The incident at LAX has raised concerns about the adequacy of training for TSA employees responding to an active shooter scenario. Employees at TSA regularly receive an array of security and educational training activities. However, historically, active shooting scenario training was not a primary focus, but was available to employees through two optional online courses. As recommended through the Idea Factory, TSA mandated this training on December 19, 2013, with a required completion date for all employees of March 31, 2014.

Industry stakeholders further emphasized the importance of active shooter training and exercises through feedback provided at the stakeholder meetings. In addition to the training course, TSA has mandated active shooter exercises for all TSA employees on at least an annual basis. As a further enhancement, TSA established a working group to develop a facilitator guide that will assist field Assistant FSDs for Law Enforcement in providing best practices and templates for local airport active shooter exercises.

Feedback from law enforcement and industry stakeholders also emphasized the importance of training and preparation to minimize casualties and help direct law enforcement to the active shooter.

TSA requires each airport to develop and implement an active shooter tactical response plan consistent with our national standard, which includes the designation of possible evacuation routes and establishment of rendezvous points. Following the shooting, we conducted a review of Active Shooter Mitigation Plans to ensure that all airports have active shooter plans in place and that such plans are in compliance with a national model. We also swiftly reviewed the LAX plan and confirmed compliance with the national format.

Based on feedback from law enforcement and industry stakeholders, TSA is recommending that airport operators conduct active shooter training and exercises on a bi-annual basis to minimize casualties and help direct law enforcement to the active shooter.2 TSA also issued an Operations Directive requiring that all FSDs conduct mandatory evacuation drills twice a year. This Directive supplements the information shared by shift supervisors regarding evacuation procedures and ensure employees are trained on the active shooter plan in place at their local airport.

In support of further efforts to reinforce emergency procedures, we have incorporated a reminder in our weekly shift brief requiring supervisors to conduct briefings for employees regarding the evacuation routes and rendezvous points identified in the local mitigation plan. As such, supervisors brief all personnel at the beginning of each shift regarding the evacuation plan, emergency exits, and alarm protocol for their particular location.

Finally, TSA is exploring options to provide the family of TSO Hernandez with additional benefits.


2 LAX had recently conducted an active shooter exercise under their plan prior to the shooting.

 

Emergency Response Equipment and Technology

As part of our review, TSA studied how officers can notify law enforcement of an emergency at a checkpoint most effectively.3 The security review determined that technological improvements to alert notification systems are needed in many airports to ensure that duress alarms are present at all screening locations, including at terminal lobbies. TSA conducted a survey of screening and other locations including x-ray lanes, private screening rooms, supervisor podiums, Known Crew Member lanes, exit lanes, and Explosive Detection System baggage screening areas in non-sterile spaces, which showed that several of these locations do not have alert notification capability.

To close the gap identified by the survey, I approved the acquisition of additional alert notification capacity. TSA has begun the process of acquiring duress alarms for all airports. In addition, we will solicit and award delivery orders to a third party systems integrator for the installation of duress alarms at all remaining airports, which will begin shortly after we award the contract.

Although not all airports have extensive alert notification capabilities, for those airports that do, we conducted a survey of all existing duress alarms to determine if they were fully functional. Ninety-eight percent of the alarms were deemed fully functional, and we took corrective action to fix the remaining alarms. We then issued an Operations Directive requiring TSA employees to conduct a weekly test in coordination with airports to verify all alert notification systems are fully functional.

We have also adopted guidance for FSDs to ensure all TSA-owned wireless devices are programmed with local airport emergency numbers and to provide employees with those numbers to allow them to voluntarily program them into personal devices. 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.

In addition, we are engaging airports to encourage linkage between duress alarms and closed-circuit television (CCTV) systems to ensure that when a duress alarm is received, a predetermined set of CCTV views would be programmed to automatically focus on the location of the alarm. Creating these linkages should greatly enhance the ability of the airport operator to have a real-time view of the area where a duress alarm is activated.


3 The primary means for providing notification of an emergency is via duress alarms.

 

Law Enforcement Officer Presence at and Response to Checkpoints

After carefully studying the presence of law enforcement officers at checkpoints, TSA is taking the following actions, which reflect our intent to enhance the visibility of law enforcement while recognizing the financial burden that additional resource requirements would place upon our law enforcement partners, many of whom have faced budget cuts in recent years. We have valued the input of our workforce and the expertise of our stakeholders in determining an appropriate balance that enhances officer safety and security without mandating requirements that could affect our partners’ ability to provide effective law enforcement throughout each airport.

First, we are requiring all airports to incorporate maximum response times in their Airport Security Programs (ASPs). TSA will work with airports to determine the most appropriate maximum response time for their ASP. TSA conducted a review of all ASPs and concluded that while most airports were operating under ASPs which specified a maximum response time to checkpoints, 71 airports operating under flexible response agreements did not have any required response time stated in their ASP. We also identified differences in maximum response times resulting from discretionary determinations of need made at the local level. Although we considered imposing standardized maximum response times by category, we recognize the importance of allowing discretion in these determinations and are therefore not currently pursuing standardized maximum response times. Nonetheless, ensuring that all airports adopt clearly articulated maximum response times in their ASP is a priority, and our FSDs are working with airports to update their ASPs where necessary. Once updates are complete, TSA will monitor and enforce compliance with the new policy. These changes will address the gap identified in the agency’s review while allowing local airport security directors flexibility in working with their airport operators.

Second, I have directed TSA’s VIPR teams to continue the surge in operations at passenger screening checkpoints to provide a visible deterrent in support of our TSOs. VIPR teams are authorized under statute to augment the security of any mode of transportation at any location within the United States and are typically composed of federal, state, and local law enforcement and security assets and TSA personnel including Federal Air Marshals, Behavior Detection Officers, Transportation Security Officers, Transportation Security Specialists-Explosives, Transportation Security Inspectors, and TSA-certified explosives detection canine teams.4 In the immediate aftermath of the incident, we deployed additional VIPR teams to airport checkpoints, reflecting our flexibility to rapidly redirect and deploy VIPR capabilities in response to changes in the threat profile. To accomplish this surge, VIPR deployments have been evenly split between surface and aviation transportation modes from their previous allocation of 70 percent in surface modes and 30 percent in aviation. This VIPR deployment strategy has garnered support among the TSA workforce and we will continue this shift to enhance VIPR presence at airports, subject to adjustments based on intelligence or special requirements.

Lastly, TSA is issuing recommended standards for increased law enforcement presence at high traffic airport locations such as peak travel times at checkpoints and ticket counters to provide visible deterrence and quicker incident response times. By implementing these standards, airports would retain some flexibility for law enforcement response while providing enhanced law enforcement presence during peak travel times. We are strongly encouraging airports to adopt these measures and will work with all airports toward implementation. All airport operators remain obligated to comply with existing ASP, statutory, and regulatory requirements to provide a law enforcement response adequate to ensure the safety of passengers. In situations where there is an imminent threat, law enforcement must therefore respond accordingly. TSA also advised airport operators that we will ensure our employees utilize duress alarms only when they perceive imminent danger, with the expectation that airport security personnel will respond accordingly.


4 See the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007, P.L. 110-53.

 

Conclusion

The tragic shooting of Officer Hernandez and injuries suffered by two other TSA employees and a passenger on November 1, 2013, were an extraordinary shock to the TSA community and the public. It remains difficult to comprehend the sudden loss of a dedicated public servant who was simply doing his job in support of the agency’s transportation security mission. The actions we have undertaken thus far are aimed at seeking to prevent, to the greatest extent possible, a recurrence of this tragedy, while recognizing that the next attack may take a different form. In the wake of the LAX incident, we were given an opportunity to identify a better way forward in partnership with industry and law enforcement stakeholders and continued engagement with the workforce. We remain committed to delivering meaningful improvements to officer safety and security and to working collaboratively with our partners in this effort. Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. I will be happy to answer your questions.

Review Date: 
April 7, 2014
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