Port Authority launched probe into JFK Airport evacuations

Terminal 8 at JFK is evacuated for what turns out to be an unconfirmed report of gunfire in the airport.
Courtesy of NYPD Special Ops/Twitter
By Bill Parry

While law enforcement officials still try to figure out what caused the evacuation of two terminals at JFK International Airport Sunday night, a full after-action report on the response has been ordered by Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye. Talking to reporters Wednesday, NYPD Commissioner William Bratton called the episode a “false alarm that we can learn from,” and accentuated the positives of the embarrassing false alarm that might have been caused by travelers reacting to Usain Bolt’s victory in the Olympics, according to officials.

“So, (there is) a lot to learn from this event the other evening — improving the protocols where appropriate between Port Authority and ourselves,” Bratton said. “What worked was that we, in a very short period of time, had 300 to 400 police officers with the right equipment at that location. So if there had been an actual event or multiple events — which we train for –at multiple terminals, we would have resources there.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio, speaking at the same press event, agreed with his top cop.

“I think we learned some important lessons from this weekend,” he said. “We’re going to improve our coordination, make sure that the resources are there to deal with an incident like this. There’s been plenty of cross-training and other efforts before to coordinate but we have to do better — and we have to make sure that we inform the public better in any situation like this.”

The initial reports of shots fired came in Sunday at 9:34 p.m. and the departure area at Terminal 8 was cleared to “be cautious.” There was a robust response from the NYPD with more than 100 officers helping the PAPD search the terminal. There were no firearms or ammunition found and there were no injuries or arrests and the investigation continues into what caused the event, according to PAPD spokesman Joseph Pentangelo.

At 10:15 p.m. the PAPD closed the departure area at Terminal 1 after additional calls of shots fired that also caused the closure of the Van Wyck Expressway in the airport’s vicinity. The sweep took over three hours before operations resumed.

“They’re trying to determine the catalyst of what caused this to happen,” Pentangelo said. “Was it Usain Bolt or the sound of luggage falling? It doesn’t appear to be a hoax. It was more like people starting to run when they saw others starting to run.”

Jamaican track star Usain Bolt won the 100-meter dash just after 9:30 p.m. for a record third time. NBC News reported that “cheering, clapping and banging from people watching the Olympic Games may have been misinterpreted as a fight and gunshots.”

Foye called the Port Authority Police Department’s response timely and tactically sound. The mayor was pleased with the actions of the NYPD’s new Critical Response Command in addition to the Emergency Services Units that responded quickly.

“It’s another example where the personnel investments and the training investments paid off in terms of being able to very rapidly flood the area with a large number of highly trained officers,” de Blasio said. “Again, I want to see us do better going forward? Yes.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

More from Around New York