I found myself in the middle of a dramatic scene last Sunday. You may have heard or seen on the news the story about the scare at LAX that occurred when there were reports of a gunman on the loose. I was there.
I had passed through security and was sitting in the terminal waiting for my flight when the commotion erupted. Suddenly people were yelling about a shooter. Some people dove to the floor, others started running toward the end of the terminal. I jumped up, grabbed my briefcase and went behind a nearby wall. I will admit my heart was beating faster as I stood there deciding what to do next. After a while, I peeked around the corner from the edge of the wall, and the area was empty except for security guards so I went to join the large group that had fled to the end of the terminal hallway. Eventually we were all asked to clear the terminal so the police units could do their sweep of the premises.
In the end, it turned out to be a false alarm. The only injuries were to our schedules, as flights were delayed while we all went through security again. What was supposed to be a brief flight that would have me home by 11 p.m. turned into a long, eventful night that didn't see me get back until the early hours of the morning.
But as unsettling as that experience was, I also have come away with good feelings, too, when I reflect on how everyone came together that night and did what they needed to do under high-pressure circumstances.
First of all, there was the display of camaraderie among that first group of passengers at the end of the terminal, where I saw many displays of kindness, support, and reassurance as we waited for authorities to come as well as to find out what happened and what would happen next.
And the coordinated efforts of those responders – the airport police, L.A. police special units, TSA agents – was nothing short of amazing. These kinds of situations are notoriously difficult for them because there is no isolated area to focus on. The shooter could be anywhere (or nowhere, as in this case), and in a busy airport you have thousands of people in a state of fear and confusion to deal with. I know there will always be complaints about police conduct, and the TSA, and the inconveniences of modern air travel – and maybe some of them are justified. But on that Sunday evening, they had to evacuate five terminals swiftly and safely, and from what I witnessed they did it with impressive professionalism.
That's the message I choose to take away from that experience – that even though we live in a world where acts of random violence are always a real possibility, we also live in a world where people instinctively come together in the face of a crisis, and where there are people who devote (and risk) their lives for the purpose of protecting others. It might sound strange, but it was the threat of an inhumane act that really amplified for me the power of our shared humanity.
It's something we all need to keep in mind, whether we are spending time with family, growing and learning with colleagues, serving patients as a team, or even huddling in an airport terminal with fellow frightened strangers: We are all in this together.