Set up to address needs that became apparent during a deadly shooting last month at LAX, a new airport response team dubbed ART is now ready to deploy in event of a major disruptive event at the world’s sixth-busiest airport, according to the program coordinator.
"We have a structure in place. We have a framework where we can actually call people in and deploy them to be helpful," said Barbara Yamamoto, the customer service director at LAX.
Law enforcement and fire department paramedics will remain the primary emergency responders to crime or disaster scenes. The focus of the new response team is to provide information and assistance to travelers who may find themselves caught up in a developing situation and unsure what to do.
On Nov. 1, when airport operations were in effect suspended in the aftermath of a deadly shooting, tens of thousands of travelers searched in vain for guidance. Many left the airport on foot, uncertain whether flights would resume later in the day, or whether they should try to find a hotel room.
Airport administration sent out information via tweets, but many travelers had no idea which account to follow. Others lacked smartphones. In the ensuing days, City Councilman Mike Bonin and others urged the airport administration to develop a protocol for delivering information and assistance.
"Therein lies the need for the airport response team," Yamamoto said.
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Recognizable by their baby blue vests marked Airport Response Team, members would carry a small backpack with a basic first aid kit, flashlight, whistle and cellphone, plus a pen and notepad for leaving information.
They would interact with travelers "face to face," Yamamoto said.
On the average day, LAX travelers can find red-coated volunteers at information booths, and about 50 customer service staffers providing some assistance in terminals, but primarily helping arriving passengers go through Customs.
When ART is called up, the plan is to deploy the team in 10 squads of 10, the members to come from the ranks of LAX staffers who have gone through special training. So as not to divert on duty staff from their assignments, ART would call in off-duty personnel to a designated mustering location.
If need be, they could be bused to their assignments, Yamamoto said.
Calling in off-duty staff could add time to deployment, Yamamoto acknowledged, but she emphasized their mission is different from that of the first responders.
"The ART team would not be called until the first responders have already been involved. They've assessed the situation," she said. "They know it's safe and secure. And now we really need to take care of the passengers."
A first training session was held Dec. 11, and another is scheduled for Jan. 9. So far the program has 120 signups, enough to deploy a full team of 100.
ART is limited to LAX staffers, but Yamamoto encourages others who want to volunteer to consider the airport's "Volunteer Information Professions" – the VIP program that staffs the information booths on arrival level.
Still in development and yet to be finalized by the Airport Commission is the so called "After Action Report," intended to incorporate lessons learned from the Nov. 1 emergency, and inform new procedures.
But ART got the green light to proceed without waiting for the After Action Report.