LAX emergency response team will tend to passengers in future emergencies

Passengers wait outside Terminal 1 at LAX after a shooting on November 1st, 2013.
Passengers wait outside Terminal 1 at LAX after a shooting on November 1st, 2013.
Mae Ryan/KPCC

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Los Angeles International Airport has formed an emergency response team to handle crowds of passengers the next time there is a major incident. It comes partly in response to the Nov. 1 shooting inside Terminal Three that led to a major evacuation and left many heading to the airport stuck outside.

The airport was criticized for not disseminating information fast enough to stranded passengers after the shooting.

Evacuated passengers sat on street curbs for hours in the sun. Traffic jams and several airport roadways that were blocked by police restricted people’s ability to move. Many camped out on the lawns of hotels or waited in lobbies. Metro buses eventually picked up passengers and hauled them away from the gridlock around the airport.

RELATED: KPCC coverage of the shooting at LAX

Barbara Yamamoto is director of customer service at LAX. She said airport representatives and volunteers have always been available to help passengers. But the department has mainly relied on mass communication to get information to customers. This is the first formalized employee team that can be deployed on the ground during emergencies.

“We realize that when we have an incident on a large scale, we really need more people out there to take care of our customers and to provide information and to provide that face-to-face communication,” Yamamoto said.

About 115 employees make up the team. Yamamoto is aiming for 300 people, including volunteers, to rotate during prolonged evacuations. She said her department is collaborating with businesses on Century Boulevard, a main airport roadway, to recruit response team members.

Members will give out blankets, water or diapers and try identifying people who may need special assistance. Some teams will be assigned off-site to corner stores, hotels, or streets outside the airport to reach incoming passengers stuck behind road blocks.

“Especially when you’re dealing with bringing back the passengers into the terminals, there can be a lot of confusion during those times,” Yamamoto said. Terminal Three was re-opened around 1:30 p.m. on Nov. 1, about four hours after the shooting.

L.A. City Council Member Mike Bonin, whose district includes LAX, asked staff to review airport emergency evacuation and crisis communication plans for what lessons can be learned from the shooting and evacuation.

His office said the Airport Commission is expected to review how LAX handled crowd control at an upcoming meeting. An after action report is due in February.