FT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) – It was a year ago that a lone gunman went on a shooting spree at Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, killing five people before he was taken into custody.
“It was horrifying day, but I think most people have gotten by it. Everybody keeps their eyes open and ears open now,” said airport worker Kim Cameron.
To make the situation even worse, there were false reports of additional gunfire which caused panic and sent some travelers stampeding to perceived safety. Thousands of passengers were left stranded after flights were canceled due to partial evacuation of the airport.
A critical report of law enforcement’s response to the shooting revealed a lack of training and coordination made the crisis worse. The general consensus is that thanks to a solid law enforcement response that day, a larger loss of life was avoided. However, communication problems in the aftermath of that tragedy caused uncertainty and preventable chaos for many of the civilians and safety officials there.
Over the past year, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz has met with federal, state and local officials as well as industry experts to discuss those airport security and response issues.
On Monday the congresswoman filed a bill that seeks to prevent similar tragedies happening nationwide.
The Airport Advanced Logistics Emergency Response and Training (ALERT) Act addresses the communication, coordination and training issues that all major airports face.
“It’s a comprehensive approach so that no matter where you are traveling in the United States, no matter what airport you are going through, the traveling public is subject to the utmost safety standards. That’s what this legislation is all about,” said Wasserman Schultz.
Specifically, the bill would expand the Airport Air Transportation Security Programs administered by TSA to enhance training, require planning, improve communications, and assist customers and the traveling public in the aftermath of any airport emergency.
In addition, at the 28 airports in TSA’s highest security level known as Category X, which includes Miami and Fort Lauderdale, the Airport ALERT Act would require an integrated and unified operations center to oversee and direct security operations for the entire airport. Miami International Airport is already constructing such a center which experts agree should be copied at airports nationwide.
Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International has made changes in the wake of the shooting. The are more Broward Sheriff’s deputies at the terminal, the county’s aviation department now has emergency supplies for stranded passengers including cots, water, and toiletries. A public alert warning system is being devoloped.
“We’ve worked behind the scenes with law enforcement and our other agency partners, quietly, on reviewing all types of procedures and protocols. At the same time we are preparing to move forward with training programs for our entire airport community,” said airport Director Mark Gale.
The airport will host an “active shooter” drill in April.
The man charged in the shooting, Esteban Santiago of Anchorage, Alaska, is scheduled to go on trial June 11th.
Santiago pleaded not guilty to a 22-count indictment in the January 6th, 2017 shooting.
Authorities say he retrieved a 9mm handgun he had taken on a flight in checked luggage, loaded it in a bathroom and came out firing randomly in the crowded terminal.
After the shooting, the FBI says Santiago told agents he acted under government mind control, then claimed inspiration by Islamic State extremists. No terrorist links have been found.
Santiago, a National Guard Iraq war veteran, was briefly hospitalized in Alaska about two months before the airport shooting after complaining of mental problems but was released with no restrictions on possessing a gun. While awaiting trial in jail, Santiago has been taking anti-psychotic drugs to treat a diagnosis of schizophrenia, but his lawyers say he is competent to stand trial.