Florida Airport Has New Ways to Warn Public of Emergencies

The changes are meant to prevent the chaos that forced the airport to close after five people were killed there in January 2017. The shooter was captured in minutes, but passengers were stranded on the tarmac for hours.

by Larry Barszewski, Sun Sentinel / June 12, 2019

(TNS) — If there’s a safety threat at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, there’s now multiple ways for officials to warn visitors of the danger and to tell them what to do.

Passengers and other visitors will also be able to reach out quickly to airport managers if they find themselves in the middle of an emergency.

The changes are meant to prevent the mass confusion and chaos that forced the airport to close after five people were killed in the baggage claim area in January 2017. The shooter was captured in minutes, but passengers were stranded on the tarmac for hours.

“Now we have a way of notifying everybody with a smart phone if there’s an emergency,” Mayor Mark Bogen said. “Now they’ve put communication devices throughout the airport.”

Here’s a look at what’s changed:

Flight information screens do double-duty

There are about 600 airplane arrival and departure screens throughout the airport that can now be used as emergency information signs at a moment’s notice.

“We can actually display a very specific [written] message, whatever the emergency responders want us to display — give directions to our passengers or our employees to shelter in place or let them know that something’s going on,” airport director Mark Gale said.

The messages can be put out on screens airport-wide or limited to a particular terminal or concourse, depending on the emergency, he said.

Phone alerts to visitors and employees

If a crisis does occur, the airport can blast out text alerts to all cell phones in the airport. The system functions like an Amber Alert but is geographically limited to the airport property.

In addition, airport employees can sign up for a separate text alert system that notifies them of issues at the airport and gives them specific instructions they may need during an emergency.

Emergency call boxes

By August, the airport plans to install 50 audio-video emergency call boxes throughout its terminals and car rental center. With a push of a button, a person will be connected with the airport operations control center.

“Our folks will actually be able to see who is calling and on the line, know exactly where they are,” Gale said. “We’ll also see them on our closed-circuit TV and actually be able to dispatch assistance much more quickly.”

The call boxes could be used for a variety of situations, such as a medical emergency or a big fight, not just for active shooters.

Expanded speaker system

When airport visitors rushed out onto the airfield during the 2017 airport shooting, there was no way of relaying information to them. The airport’s speaker system worked in the terminals and outside in the pick-up and drop-off locations, but was not on the tarmac.

New speaker systems have been installed on the airfield so that people there aren’t left in the dark. The airport has also increased the number of airport vehicles equipped with loud-speaker systems.

Employee training

Gale said emergency response at the airport is being improved through ongoing employee training.

As of September, all the airport’s 18,000 employees had gone through a mandatory three-hour training course, Gale said. The training teaches employees what to do in different situations and how to interact with SWAT, tactical teams or first responders they may encounter during an emergency.

In addition, a full-scale active shooter drill was conducted last year and another is planned for later this year, he said.


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