Officers responding to a mass shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in January failed to coordinate and communicate effectively in the aftermath of the incident, causing havoc at the airport, according to a new report.
On Tuesday, Broward County released a report by a consultant who examined the response by law enforcement, airport and county workers to the Jan. 6 mass shooting that left five people dead and stranded about 12,000 people at the airport for several hours.
At a press conference Tuesday afternoon, county officials including airport director Mark Gale defended their response to the shooting while also agreeing with recommendations for security improvements outlined in the report.
“Some will take weeks, some will take months, some will take longer but we intend to stay vigilant until all of these recommendations have been addressed,” he said.
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Officers were able to reach and detain Esteban Santiago 85 seconds after the initial shots were fired. But 90 minutes later, more chaos ensued when reports emerged of shootings in other terminals. Those turned out to be false alarms.
The 82-page report by the consultants Ross & Baruzzini is based on more than 60 interviews with first responders, airport employees and others who were at the airport the day of the shooting.
It outlines a number of shortcomings that contributed to the hours of uncertainty at the airport. Those included limited communication between the Broward Sheriff’s Office and the Broward County Aviation Department, confusion about who was in charge and a lack of contingency plans for spontaneous mass evacuations and sheltering. The report also pointed to the need for more detailed family-assistance and customer-care programs during similar scenarios.
Among the challenges in coordination, the report highlighted the fact that the Broward Sheriff’s Office circumvented operational tasks that should have been handled by the aviation department and county emergency operations centers, adding to the confusion.
When Sheriff Scott Israel was asked at the press conference if he agreed with that conclusion, he replied, “No, I don’t even know what you are talking about … I haven’t seen the report.” Israel said BSO received the report Monday at 5 p.m.
After he was shown that particular sentence in the report after the press conference he said “there was nothing circumvented.”
The report calls on the county to update the terminal evacuation plan that the report described as “lacking.”
County officials said that evacuation plans didn’t account for a sudden mass shooting incident.
“This was not an organized mass evacuation, this was a mass escape,” Israel said. “This was over 10,000 people running for their lives in haphazard directions at different times.”
Still, Tuesday’s report praised the swift response from first responders, who quickly called law enforcement and emergency medical responders to the scene at the Terminal 2 baggage claim area, where Santiago opened fire.
“The apprehension of the suspect may have prevented further loss of life and is a testament to the professionalism, training and bravery of the officers and other first responders who responded to the shooting on that day,” the report said.
The report also commended initial communication and coordination between agencies, including Customs and Border Patrol and the Transportation Security Administration; open communication between the aviation department and the county; and the aviation department’s handling of the recovery of thousands of personal belongings that were left behind at the airport during the chaos.
Airport officials publicly released the report Tuesday afternoon after county commissioners held a closed-door meeting, as allowed under state law, to discuss security of county facilities. The same consultant will write a separate report about law enforcement staffing at the airport.
In the Broward Sheriff’s Office own draft report about the shooting released in June, the office also pointed to its poor communication with the aviation department, along with other mistakes, as a key contributor to the disorder following the shooting. Airport officials disputed some conclusions in the BSO report.
The SEIU union, which represents 600 wheelchair attendants, security officers, ramp agents, customer service representatives and other airport workers at FLL, released its own security recommendations last week calling for more training for the airport’s 2,000 contractual workers.
Santiago arrived at FLL at 12:15 Jan. 6 on a Delta Air Lines flight from Anchorage, Alaska, with a connection in Minneapolis-St. Paul. He had checked a semi-automatic handgun.
After collecting his handgun from Delta staff, Santiago entered a men’s bathroom and loaded the firearm, then opened fire in the baggage claim area.
Santiago is scheduled for trial in January.