by Jonathan Diamond, Melinda McVay, and Mary Zavala
For full report click here.
At the hub of travel and commerce connecting the nation’s second-largest city to points across the continent and across the Pacific, Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) attracts tens of millions of visitors each year. LAX experiences dozens of security incidents that disrupt service. Although most are minor, in an age of terrorism each requires thorough investigation.
To respond to threats both real and perceived, local and federal agencies charged with security at LAX have implemented policies and procedures for evacuating the public and airport employees. These procedures are regularly employed and revised. Yet while there are several events each year that require some form of evacuation from the eight terminals at LAX, a gap in knowledge about the public’s behavioral and psychological reactions during times of airport crisis and evacuation remains.
This void prompted security officials at LAX to request our study. These individuals, all represented by agencies on the Airport Security Advisory Committee (ASAC) Executive Board, sought a better understanding of the behaviors they could anticipate from the public and airport staff and how these reactions might inhibit evacuation procedures or the ability of these agencies to keep the public safe during an emergency. Among the questions they posed were:
and what factors influencing those reactions can be addressed in advance?
evacuations? What types of actions and leadership would be most effective in carrying out
an evacuation? What failures of performance can be anticipated and circumvented?
and affiliates to implement?
We took a three-pronged approach to answer these questions. We interviewed participants in three case studies of large-scale evacuations at LAX that occurred over the last eight years; reviewed publicly available videos of evacuations at other airports; and surveyed academic and industry literature on human behavior in crisis situations. This process led us to examine evacuations in three key areas: the relationships among the security agencies at LAX, the training of evacuation personnel, and mechanisms for communicating with evacuees to mitigate anxiety and physical discomfort.
No comprehensive assessment of human behavior during airport evacuations had been conducted before, so we evaluated the options that grew from our assessment based on the unique perspective we gained through the research, as well as the professional expertise of those who would be implementing recommended policies. In developing the criteria for analyzing the options, we considered whether or not the options would:
1. Address the concerns raised by both evacuees and security personnel
2. Have an affirmative impact on the evacuation process
3. Raise any ancillary safety or security concerns
4. Be feasible in the context of the multiple jurisdictions serving at the airport, the organizational “culture” of the airport, and the spatial and staffing dimensions of LAX
5. Be cost prohibitive
We presented the options to a set of airport personnel involved in implementing the evacuations. We reconciled our analysis with theirs and compiled a set of policy recommendations. The policies most strongly recommended were formal involvement of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in the evacuation process, the training of all TSA employees at LAX in the Department of Homeland Security’s National Incident Management System (NIMS), the use of LAX security videos for training Los Angeles Airport Police officers for evacuations, the design of a mechanism to keep evacuees appropriately informed, and standardized safety and security training for all workers employed at LAX.