Are our airports safe? A look at airport security after LAX shooting

By Kimberly Nelson

Published 05/15 2014 10:34PM

Updated 05/15 2014 10:36PM

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 Utah) - A TSA agent was killed and several others wounded last year when a gunman walked into Los Angeles International Airport, took aim at security agents and opened fire. Since that incident questions have been raised about whether airports should have more security.


On November 1st, 23-year-old Paul Ciancia walked right up to the TSA checkpoint, and according to the criminal complaint, pulled out an assault rifle and shot TSA officer Gerardo Hernandez multiple times at point blank range. Two other TSA agents were wounded as Ciancia shot his way through the checkpoint. He made it past security, all the way down the terminal before law enforcement finally shot him four times.


Homeland Security expert Tom Panuzio says there's nothing stopping a similar attack from happening at Salt Lake City International Airport.


"All of the sudden opening fire and literally opening fire like this 20 rounds, stops put another magazine in another 20 rounds and as you can see it's that quick,” explains Panuzio.


Communication problems and gaps in police patrols left the LAX terminal without an armed officer for nearly 3 1/2 minutes. In that time, a shooter looking to kill could have fired off hundreds of rounds.


At Salt Lake International Panuzio says someone could easily walk in from the street and start firing.


"If you look at how long it takes someone to walk in from the street, which is only from our standpoint less than a 100 feet away, and to walk in here with a carbine rifle and start shooting, a sophisticated shooter you're looking at between 10 and 12 seconds, by the time that shooter shoots a 100 rounds it could only be less than 3 minutes,” said Panuzio.


The other problem Panuzio says is the lack of visible police officers. In the 20 minutes we were at the airport we only saw one.


Panuzio said, "The fact is they need to be here. They need to have a presence. They need to have a rifle on their side and they need to deter an incident that could result in a massacre."


But airport spokesperson Barbara Gann says just because you can't see the security doesn't mean it's not there.


"There is more security at this checkpoint than you know, than you would see with a naked eye,” said Gann.


Panuzio argues the LAX incident shows Salt lake International, and all other airports in this country, need more than a police force they need a tactical response or swat team to handle these kinds of threats.


"We need more bodies,” said Panuzio. “And we need bodies that are armed, trained and ready for action."


It may not be a swat team, but in light of the LAX shooting the TSA went to congress and recommended that armed law enforcement officers be posted at airport security checkpoints and ticket counters during peak hours. It’s a scenario the salt lake international airport is considering.


"As you recall after 911 there were armed officers at the checkpoints, there were checks out front,” said Gann. “There may be a day when you when you see a much more secure perimeter and a hardened target.”

Gann says the airport industry is debating the risk verses the reality; does the public really want more security and if so who's going to pay for it?


"It's not just this airport, it's every airport. It's every public building, it's a mall, it's a theatre, it's a school,” said Gann. “What is the traveling public willing to put up with so to speak in order to have that type of environment?”


But unlike malls, schools and movie theatres, in airports no one is allowed to be armed.


Panuzio said, “There's nobody carrying weapons in here that can defend themselves, not even mace. They essentially have their luggage and their kids, and there are a lot of kids."

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