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False JFK airport shooting casts light on poor TSA protocols

Lack of safety instructions struck a chord with passengers, especially after the Brussels and Istanbul airport attacks this year

Ismaeel Naar

Published: Updated:

When chaos and panic ensued at John F. Kennedy International Airport’s Terminal 8 on Sunday night, amid fears that there was a shooting incident taking place, many passengers reported a lack of protocols and proper instructions by officials on how to react.

One passenger, a professor at Northwestern University in Qatar who was going through the security before catching a Qatar Airways flight, told Al Arabiya English that Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials “simply ran with the crowds.”

“We received no instructions, it was absolute chaos. The TSA officials seemed confused and panicked as everyone else,” Justin Martin told Al Arabiya English.

He said people started running and some shouted that there was a gunman and the commotion grew until everyone started running through the terminal.

The confusion was so widespread that Martin said he witnessed people unable to walk unaided left behind as airline representatives and airport officials kept running for safety.

“As I was running, I even passed some people who were left in wheelchairs,” he added. Reports of a gunman proved false after hours of lockdown and search showed no shooter was present at the terminal.

Lack of confidence

Boisterous celebrations over the Olympic victory of the world’s fastest man Usain Bolt is currently being investigated as a possibility by police for the cause of the confused panic. An internal New York Police Department briefing document, obtained by The Associated Press, said a preliminary video review showed that some travelers had started to act “extremely disruptive” while watching the Olympics on televisions in Terminal 8.

The lack of safety procedures and lack of instructions struck a chord with passengers, especially after attacks at the Brussels International airport in March and Ataturk International Airport in June raised questions about global threats by extremists targeting travelers.

“It doesn’t instill a lot of confidence in TSA. From my experience, it was almost to the point where they had no plan,” Martin said.

Those hired for the screening process at US commercial airports are subcontracted to private companies and are not directly hired by the federal government.

A TSA spokesperson told Al Arabiya English that airport police are responsible for protecting passengers and airport property during an active shooter situation.

“Transportation Security Officers (TSO) followed Transportation Security Administration protocols during the incident that occurred at JFK Airport Sunday night,” the spokesperson said.

Members of the Port Authority Police Department stand guard at Terminal 8 at John F. Kennedy airport in the Queens borough of New York City. (Reuters)
Members of the Port Authority Police Department stand guard at Terminal 8 at John F. Kennedy airport in the Queens borough of New York City. (Reuters)