Dear Black Bag Confidential Reader,
Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is one of the busiest airports in the world. The airport is 5 square miles in size and hosts 75 million passengers annually between arrivals and departures. These passengers are serviced by over 50,000 employees who report to work each day.
Over 100,000 vehicles travel to and from LAX on a daily basis. With these kinds of numbers, the airport literally operates as its own city. Which means it must have top-notch security protocols to keep all these people safe
LAX has its own private police force — which includes a SWAT team — consisting of 500 sworn officers. Believe it or not, the Los Angeles airport’s police department is larger than the entire state police department of Rhode Island.
On Aug. 28, 2016, airport security was summoned to address a rather unusual threat. A man dressed as Zorro was walking through Terminal 7 with a sword, causing passengers to panic. Yes, you read that right. The man was strolling through LAX in a full Zorro costume, mask and all.
While the sword ended up being plastic, you can imagine why people were frightened to see someone sporting this attire. The man was released and everything seemed to go back to business as usual.
Then something even more terrifying happened.
Dispatchers received multiple reports of gunshots being heard and alerted airport police that there was an active shooter in another terminal. Word spread through the airport by word of mouth and through social media, and passengers began running out of various terminals into the airfield.
Police determined that there never was an active shooter — the supposed gunshots were only loud noises. But the investigation was prolonged because police also had to investigate whether the Zorro incident was a way to pull resources into one specific area.
This incident tested LAX’s emergency response — which was expertly executed. But LAX hasn’t always been able to deal with all the threats an airport of its size faces so efficiently.
In 2014, the airport created a division with the sole purpose of intelligence gathering. And now, after a few years of operation, the airport intelligence unit rivals similar departments in some sovereign nations.
The department’s purpose is to prevent an airport attack like the recent incidents in Fort Lauderdale and Istanbul. Bringing intelligence analysis in-house and under the control of the airport gives the department similar capabilities as federal agencies.
This is extremely helpful when you are dealing with a landmark like an airport because the enormous amount of information to sift through can be overwhelming. Not only does LAX have airplanes coming in from over 175 different cities, but the intelligence division also has to keep tabs on ground transportation and nearby hotels.
One way the airport is addressing its physical security is by undergoing a multibillion-dollar renovation, which will include a new terminal called the Private Suite at LAX. This terminal will be for VIP travelers who are willing to pay a very high price for the use of a private terminal. The price tag has not been released, but is expected to cost a few thousand dollars per passenger per flight.
At first glance, you might think this is just more special treatment for the uber-wealthy. But one of the main reasons for constructing this terminal is to reduce security risks. Security experts figure if they remove celebrities from regular terminals, they can reduce the chaos that occurs when the paparazzi and throngs of admirers start following them.
By eliminating this commotion, everyday travelers will be able to move through the airport quicker and safer — without the hassle of a large crowd chasing a celebrity.
As we see more threats arise, I believe it won’t be long before the LAX intelligence unit has operatives working overseas gathering information on possible threats to the airport.
While this is certainly good news — and I’m glad to see LAX taking security so seriously — it’s important to remember that you are always your own last line of defense.
Crafty criminals will always find a way around security measures, so it’s up to you to remain situationally aware at all times — but especially in crowded airports. You should also be able to defend yourself and stop an attack if need be.
The bottom line is never get complacent when you see excellent security, because anything can happen anywhere… even though we all pray it doesn’t.