These are anxious times, underscored by the chaos and panic that gripped Kennedy Airport earlier this month when false reports of shots fired created pandemonium. Hundreds of passengers fled the terminal, creating a human stampede that swept along adults and small children.
As frightened passengers milled about on Sunday night, Aug. 14, there was silence from the Port Authority Police, which had no instructions or announcements for the desperate crowds.
The cause, it turned out, was enthusiastic cheering by travelers when sprinter Usain Bolt won the Olympic Gold in Rio.
This abysmal lapse has exposed a fault line at the borough’s two airports, where we have been lulled into a false sense of security by counting on the Port Authority Police and Homeland Security. Where was the master plan for dealing with a large-scale incident involving gunmen or a terrorist attack?
It may be time to bring in the NYPD, which has extensive experience with terrorism drills, to train the Port Authority Police. Had this been a real emergency, human casualties could have been high as the public waited in vain for direction from the Port Authority and even Transportation Security Agents.
But it was only a false alarm that destroyed the illusion that Kennedy and LaGuardia airports were well protected as the entryway to the world’s No. 1 terrorist target, New York City.
This was a frightening revelation for Queens, where our two airports are the crown jewels of the borough’s economy in terms of employment and commerce.
Gov. Cuomo has ordered a full review of the Port Authority Police’s poor response to the JFK scare.
U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer has urged the federal government to investigate the lack of preparedness by a variety of agencies at the airport that night. He also cited reports that TSA agents fled from their posts and found that Kennedy does not have a unified camera system, which prevented the Port Authority Police from seeing TSA footage.
Even though this was not supposed to be a test run, at least we discovered the inexcusable flaws in our JFK security system. Let’s hope practices are a bit more buttoned up over at LaGuardia.
But JFK is not alone. Los Angeles International Airport was the scene of mayhem Sunday night as erroneous reports of gunfire spread through the airport, passengers bolted and flights were diverted.
The federal government must act now to revamp security practices that will protect airport travelers and provide jittery passengers with basic information when another scare—real or not—strikes.