Crime & Justice

Congress to mull airport security oversight and TSA death benefits

LAX police officers gather evidence outside an LAX terminal following a shooting on November 1st, 2013.
LAX police officers gather evidence outside an LAX terminal following a shooting on November 1st, 2013.
Mae Ryan/KPCC

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A bill introduced this week in Congress would require the Transportation Security Administration to make sure airports have emergency plans to respond to active shooting events like the deadly rampage last November at LAX.

The bill was filed after investigators revealed inadequacies in the way LAX officials responded to the Nov. 1 shooting, in which a gunman killed a TSA officer and injured three other people.

U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson (R-North Carolina) filed the Gerardo Hernandez Airport Security Act of 2014 on Monday. He chairs the House subcommittee on transportation security.

The bill would require the TSA to verify that airports have emergency plans to respond to active shooters, terrorism plots, or attacks on passengers at the airport.

“What happened at LAX last year was a senseless tragedy,” Hudson said in a written statement. “I commend TSA Administrator [John] Pistole for the swift actions he took in the wake of the shooting to review what happened, confer with critical stakeholders, and implement immediate changes. Unfortunately, we know similar events could happen again at any time creating chaos and causing significant destruction in one of our airports.”

RELATED: KPCC's coverage of the shooting at LAX

Paul Ciancia, 24, is alleged to have opened fire inside Terminal 3 at LAX, killing TSA officer Gerardo Hernandez and injuring two other TSA officers and a passenger. Authorities have charged Ciancia with 11 federal counts, including murder and attempted murder.  He has pleaded not guilty.

An after-action report that evaluated the airport’s response to the shooting showed there was a lack of communication among airport officials, police, EMS and federal authorities. The airports emergency phone system had glitches and some panic buttons didn’t work. In addition, LAX emergency plans did not anticipate threats to the public areas of the airport.

The proposed Hernandez Airport Security Act asks the TSA to report back to Congress on how prepared airports are to respond to an emergency and how airports are training staff for that. The report to Congress would also include updates on the TSA reimbursement rates for local airport police officers that are used to provide security at screening checkpoints.

In March, the TSA asked local police departments at airports to provide officers at security checkpoints during peak travel times. At LAX, officers patrolled those areas but weren’t required to stay put at security checkpoints.

Meanwhile, the House Appropriations Committee approved legislation that would give federal law enforcement death benefits to the families of TSA officers killed while on the job. The legislation was attached to the Homeland Security appropriations bill as an amendment.

Gerardo Hernandez, 39, was the first TSA officers to be killed in the line of duty. 

MORE: Public memorial held for TSA officer killed in LAX shooting

Under the amendment , TSA agents would get benefits similar to those of any fallen law enforcement officer from the Public Safety Officers Benefits Program. Survivors are eligible to apply for a death benefit claim to help with the loss of income. It includes a one-time payout of  $333,604, plus college scholarship money for the surviving children, if they qualify.

The family of Hernandez filed a $25 million claim against the City of Los Angeles in April accusing the city of contributing to his death by providing inadequate security at the airport and inadequate emergency planning that caused a delay in medical attention to Hernandez.