As our own Brandon Webb deplaned Sunday night and set foot on American soil following a presumably enjoyable Euro-trip, all hell broke loose. Word spread that there was an active shooter, and for all passengers to take cover. According to multiple reports, including Webb’s own account, and a NY Post article that had a couple videos up, the inside of JFK airport in New York was complete chaos. An excellent and detailed first-hand account has also sprung up on And there’s a short, clean article detailing responsibilities, chronological events, and potential outcomes from the JFK incident over at the NY Daily News.

Now, whatever the cause for the pandemonium was (speculations have ranged from the firing of blanks to boisterous crowds banging on tables, telekinetically encouraging Usain Bolt to run faster) one thing is certain: passengers didn’t feel safe. Adding to the uneasiness, apparently some security guards were seen and heard acting just a bit less than calm, cool, and collected.

…at least half a dozen officers ran into the area, guns drawn, yelling ‘Shots fired, active shooter, everyone run! Run for your lives!‘- Webb’s article

Webb goes on to praise the bravery of the officers, which was never in question, but notes that communication with passengers left a lot to be desired. He notes a few things that could’ve been disseminated better, and tactics that could have been utilized. Thankfully, the whole situation turned out to be a false alarm. However, with hindsight being what it is, it’s worth our time to Monday morning quarterback this thing and present some possible solutions. You know, fill out the ‘ol AAR (after-action report)…

I asked Webb a few questions I had after reading his account and came up with a few key talking points and their potential problems and solutions for airport security. As always, if you have any info on what works in your AO, pass it along in the comments section. This isn’t meant to be a set of security commandments we chisel in stone, but rather noticeable errors picked up from Webb’s account of the actions taken by the airport that night dissected and analyzed.


Communication breakdown

Problem: Often, the biggest problems develop from the most preventable sources. In this case, a lack of clear communication caused extra panic and stress. Webb stated that the passengers were left out of the loop, forcing them to make decisions and inferences on their own. In the rare instance there was communication, it was hurried, excited, and contradictory to what security officials would ultimately like to see unfold. The NY Mag article noticed a complete lack of radio communication (or even radios) between airport officials.

Solution: Take the time to communicate effectively with the masses of people who are under your charge. It only takes a second for someone to gain access to the PA system and make a clear and concise message. Something like “we have an active shooter report in progress, please move out of the walkways and gather at the nearest seating area until a security official has arrived,” or whatever their policy is. That could have gone a long way in helping people gather a little situational awareness and prevent a mass of scared passengers from ambushing the nearest airport official who is also frantically trying to gather information. It also would clear the walkways which would aid the mobility/effectiveness of police officers while getting the public out of what could turn out to be the world’s largest “fatal funnel.” Additionally, leaders like Webb can emerge from chaotic individual groups with just a little bit of information and help direct crowds to get behind cover, etc., until the police arrive to take over.