Orlando airport reviews response to chaos after TSA employee's suicide

TSA, CBP, police part of 'after action' review

ORLANDO, Fla. – Orlando International Airport leaders met with Transportation Security Administration, Customs & Border Protection, airline and Orlando police officials Monday to discuss how they handled the mass chaos Saturday following a TSA worker's public suicide.

Orlando International Airport Director Phil Brown said after an incident in November 2017 when passengers panicked and breached security after a camera battery exploded, he learned the airport needs to do a better job of communicating with passengers and keeping them informed.

Since 2017, Brown explored how to take advantage of the internal speakers on the airport's fire alarms. He utilized that capability Saturday to speak to passengers.

However, Brown said he learned that the ceiling speakers in the cavernous atrium where the off-duty TSA worker committed suicide are ineffective and inaudible when large crowds are present so workers on bullhorns announced messages to the thousands of passengers waiting to be re-screened.

Immediately after the TSA worker jumped to his death from a 4th story hotel balcony, workers informed passengers there had been an "incident" and asked them to patiently wait for further instructions.

Before the airport can make a decision to continue operations, Orlando police must first make sure the incident is contained and there is no threat to the public, Brown said.

Within 30 minutes of the incident, TSA had made the decision to re-screen all passengers, including those on planes on the upper gates.

Brown said re-screening is part of the federal regulation protocol when a security breach occurs. It is inconvenient, he admitted, but necessary for security and safety.

Brown said the overhead LED message boards in the TSA security checkpoint area were not immediately used and should've been. In Monday's meeting, Brown discussed how to take advantage of this capability in the future.

Brown also said the airport must do a better job of communicating a consistent and immediate message to the airlines so pilots can keep passengers on board informed. 

Thousands of passengers sat for hours on planes that were unable to de-plane at the gate. Others were required to exit the plane and be re-screened before they could board again.

Brown said overall the airport staff handled Saturday's incident relatively well, considering the incident occurred on a busy Saturday afternoon in one the busiest places in the airport. Brown said within two hours, the first security checkpoint was back up and running, with delays, and sending passengers to the airside gates.

Brown said OIA has the capability to send emergency alerts to cell phones much like Amber alerts are issued but the airport decided against using that option.

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