Investigators looking into the chaotic response to false reports of gunfire at John F. Kennedy Airport this past August found that security was so woefully unprepared to handle the situation they ended up creating unnecessary "obvious fear and panic."
The incident in question occurred on August 14th, at JFK Terminals 1 and 8. At around 9:30 p.m., a woman exiting a plane reported she had heard gunshots, which was followed up by several other reports of gunshots. But travelers were actually reacting to the sounds of people at a terminal bar cheering for Olympic runner Usain Bolt.
According to reports, employees began evacuating passengers without telling them why. One person said the only information they received from the PAPD was that "it's not safe to stay here," and misinformation spread rapidly on social media. Flights were diverted, between 300 to 400 police officers were deployed to the scene, and TSA agents abandoned their posts.
"Seeing TSA agents running away and PAPD with guns drawn created obvious fear and panic," the report said, noting that the agents "began to run with passengers from the public area of Terminal 8" when cops showed up. Customs & Border Protection agents also drew their guns and caused more panic, the John F. Kennedy International Airport Multi-Agency Security Review Team wrote in a letter to Governor Cuomo and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.
Eight people suffered minor injuries, but investigators say the situation could have been much worse. “In this case, although thousands of people participated in an uncontrolled immediate evacuation, there were no significant injuries,” the letter read. “However, the danger posed by a panicked mass of people fleeing for their lives cannot be overstated.”
The Security Review Team says the airport needs to draft a security plan to address mass self-evacuation, one that would employ better communication between security personnel, airport employees, and police. "While the number of security personnel has increased, the coordination and standard protocols have not adjusted to the increased presence,” the letter said.
The team also recommended the airport develop better procedures with the TSA: "Since T.S.A. employees are not armed law enforcement, and are trained to ‘run, hide, fight’ in the event of an active violence situation, T.S.A. checkpoints could be left vulnerable in these situations."