False shooter scare prompts call for hearings, more airport accountability

Always Investigating

Lawmakers are calling for big changes after a false active-shooter scare shut down much of Honolulu’s airport operations yesterday.

The backlash is much like what followed the false nuclear ballistic missile alert scare last year — with lawmakers calling for hearings, an overhaul of crisis response, and more speed and accountability when things go wrong. 

Visitors and locals alike endured a marathon wait at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport on Tuesday. An overheating battery charger in a laptop bag led TSA to clear a mainland terminal checkpoint. The Department of Transportation says that’s when stanchions fell over creating a pop, pop, pop sound mistaken for gunshots.

“I don’t know where it came from but yes there were multiple TSA agents yelling ‘active shooter, active shooter, run, run, run, run, take off,’” said Nathan Paulsberg, who was at the checkpoint with his family for their flight back to Chicago. “Literally 50 people running through the TSA gate, trampling each other trying to get through, and then separating off to different areas.”

Passengers scattered to both sides of the checkpoint, causing the secure area of the airport — and even boarded flights — to be evacuated, with many waiting in the hot sun. It took almost 4 hours before Terminal 2 checkpoints reopened. The Department of Transportation said they put on twitter within 20 minutes that it was a false alarm, and also had an announcement going on a loop over the loudspeaker, though they acknowledged it was hard to hear especially in the areas outside where passengers were herded. Many passengers say they didn’t hear officially one way or the other for quite some time.

“It’s one thing to startle and scare people, it’s another to calm them down if it in fact is a false alarm,” said Sen. Glenn Wakai, who chairs the Senate’s Energy, Economic Development and Tourism Committee, so even that part of the entire game plan, as to how does the state respond to disasters generally?

Among the travelers impacted by the aftermath was Sen. Donna Kim, who had to catch a flight to Miami.

Almost 4 hours later there was not one airport official that I saw the whole time I was there waiting in line, Kim said. There was no one coordinating the line, nobody was telling us what to do.

“I called the chair of the Senate Transportation Committee,” Kim said. I told her that we should have a hearing and she agrees. We should find out what went wrong

Kim also called the director of the state Department of Transportation while waiting in line.

I called Jade Butay, Kim says. He wasn’t at the airport. He didn’t know what was going on.

KHON2 asked the DOT if and when director Butay was informed what was happening. We have not yet received a response.

I told him, ‘you guys have got to do something. What’s going on?’ Kim said she told Butay. There needs to be some sort of coordination.

Coordination, lawmakers say, between the federal TSA, state sheriffs assigned to airport patrol, the private security contractor, and D.O.T. personnel.

I mean this is not rocket science. These are just entities that are tasked with public safety that have to come up with a clear plan, Wakai said, so if there’s an active shooter, if there’s a natural disaster, if there’s a manmade disaster that they have a plan. The fact that we don’t have a plan and we’re a state agency, this is one of the few areas where this is a core government service, we have the keep the public safe, we should have a plan.

KHON2 asked what could have made a difference Tuesday?

“I think that for a third year in a row we have failed as a legislative body to pass an airports corporation or an airport authority,” Wakai said, adding such an oversight board and centralized management could help “for us having some type of protocol to make sure that if in fact, heaven forbid, an incident like this were to be real in the future that we would have some type of state procedure versus just being chickens without their heads running around trying to figure stuff out on the fly.”

Late Wednesday afternoon the state Department of Transportation put out a statement saying they teed up an emergency operations center during yesterday’s incident and that an after-action review will see if any changes to the airport’s security plan is necessary.

Always Investigating asked the TSA, the Department of Transportation and the sheriffs division do they have a plan — and do they practice together — how to deal with false alarms and active shooters, had it been a real threat. We will continue to follow up.



HONOLULU The Hawaii Department of Transportation (HDOT) thanks the traveling public for its patience following an incident at Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Checkpoint 3 in Terminal 2 at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL) on June 18, 2019 at approximately 2:10 p.m. HST that resulted in more than 40 flights being delayed and thousands of customers inconvenienced.

Upon further review, federal authorities determined an external battery charger used to power electronic devices malfunctioned creating a heating source. The charger was in carry-on luggage next to two laptop computers and a foam neck pillow which melted contributing to the smoke and odor in the checkpoint.

According to the TSA, in an effort to keep passengers safe TSA evacuated the checkpoint.  However, during that process some stanchions fell over creating a “pop, pop, pop” sound causing passengers to think a gun was being fired.  Passengers panicked and started running into the sterile area. Following the breach and subsequent evacuation, TSA conducted a security sweep of the airport and aircraft using explosive detection canines. At approximately 6 p.m., TSA reopened the security checkpoints in Terminal 2. TSA extended the shifts of on-duty TSA officers to ensure security lanes were staffed. By 9 p.m. HST, all TSA screening operations at all checkpoints had returned to normal.

The Department of Public Safety Sheriff Division and Securitas law enforcement officers responded immediately to neutralize any possible threat. Initial reports of an active shooter were determined to be false and there were never any shots fired. Sheriff canine units also helped secure the checkpoints, sweep the airport terminal and maintained crowd control.

Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting (ARFF) units stationed at HNL were called and responded to Checkpoint 3. ARFF firefighters also helped people who suffered minor injuries in the ensuing incident. No one was transported to the hospital.

Discussions with representatives from the various stakeholders at the airport began during the incident as an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) was established at HNL. The meetings are continuing this week with after action reports to review the details of the incident and determine if any modifications to the airport security plan are necessary.

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