Dear Black Bag Confidential Reader,
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that last week, Esteban Santiago walked through baggage claim at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and opened fire, killing five innocent people.
Shocking security camera footage shows the shooter calmly walking through the baggage claim before pulling a 9 mm handgun from his waistband and firing.
In the video, you can see people diving to the ground as shots ring out. In addition to the five fatalities, Esteban wounded six more. And around 40 people suffered minor injuries during the chaos of the shooting.
According to law enforcement, the 26-year-old shooter is a former member of the Alaska Army National Guard. In the months prior to the attack, he contacted the FBI claiming he was hearing voices in his head. Clearly, Santiago suffers from mental illness, but regardless of his mental state, his actions were absolutely abhorrent.
Increasingly, we are seeing criminals targeting innocent victims at airports. The obvious reason criminals target airports is because there are typically large numbers of people in a relatively confined area. These people are also usually distracted and not exercising good situational awareness.
What’s more, airports in the U.S. lack checkpoints outside of the buildings, so it's very easy to bring a weapon or other restricted items inside to busy areas teeming with travelers.
This means we all need to take airport safety and security more seriously. So here are a few recommendations to keep you safer while traveling.
1) Get through security — If you have to wait around at the airport, you should do so in the secure areas. The gate areas are safer than the ticketing section of the airport. So even if you get to the airport early, go through security right away. Most crimes occur outside the TSA screening area or near the baggage carousels, where there are larger crowds of travelers and bystanders.
2) Travel during off-peak times — Long lines are a prime target for attacks. If you can, plan your trip during off-peak times. The security lines will be shorter and you can get to your gate quicker. If a criminal wants to harm a lot of people, they will focus on the busiest travel times — times when they can also blend in better. I realize traveling during off-peak times isn’t always possible (or convenient), but do it when you can.
3) Have a plan — When you’re sitting at the airport, you should be aware of the two nearest exits. (Actually, this goes for any public space — always remember the two exits rule!) If you’re traveling abroad, be sure to have the contact information for your consulate or embassy in case you need to contact them from the airport. A little bit of planning takes mere minutes and might just mean the difference between life and death.
4) Spend as little time there as possible — Whether you yourself are flying or you are picking someone else up, always check the flight status before going to the airport. Waiting in your car or hanging around baggage claim makes you a more vulnerable target for criminals. If you must wait at the airport, find a place to park off-site and have the person call you when they arrive. (This recommendation is rather easy to follow since most people prefer to spend as little time as possible at the airport.)
If you are a passenger, check in online before getting to the airport. Also, don't check a bag unless you have no other option. The less time you have to spend at the ticket counter or baggage claim the better, since these areas are not secure.
5) Never follow the crowd — If you hear gunshots — or any kind of commotion — don’t follow the rush of the crowd. If a criminal is looking to harm as many people as possible, they will target the biggest group of people. But it’s crucial that you don’t freeze, either. Staying put will get you injured or even killed. Identify the nearest exit with the least traffic and move quickly toward it.
6) Don’t be an easy victim — No matter where you are, you should always have a way to defend yourself against an attacker. It could be a tactical pen, our micro spy tool or a sock full of pennies. Whatever you prefer, make sure you have it with you at all times when you travel, because you never know when you’ll need to use it.
Having said all this, it’s important to remember that statistically, airports are very safe. If you take into the account the huge number of people who travel through airports daily, they actually have very low crime rates.
However, we have seen that they can still be targeted, so keep these airport safety tips in mind the next time you or someone you know books a flight.