Robyn Beck/Getty Imags
August 29, 2016

False reports of an active shooter at Los Angeles International Airport on Sunday night created panic and chaos, as passengers fled terminals, airlines grounded flights, and police sought to gain control over the situation.

The incident echoes a similar—and far too recent—situation at New York City's John F. Kennedy Airport earlier this month, when two people there reported hearing gunshots. Passengers were forced to evacuate from three terminals while police searched every floor for evidence.

In Los Angeles, as in New York, hundreds of passengers were stranded outside the airport while authorities investigated the situation. Terrified travelers stampeded away from the perceived threat, some even running onto the tarmac, according to the Wall Street Journal. Passengers on arriving planes were told of a security situation that meant they would be spending some additional time on their planes, and traffic was quickly gridlocked as police set up barricades.

In both incidents, after a few hours the initial report was deemed a false alarm and police concluded that there were never any gunshots.

During the chaos of these kinds of events, travelers often don't know what to think.

In New York, some travelers sprinted towards the closest exit while others dropped to the ground to seek cover. “If you’re forgetting anything, it’s not worth your life, everyone move now!” one officer yelled during the evacuation.

In both instances, the causes were benign: Travelers cheering for the Olympics and a hoax in New York, loud noises and a man in a Zorro costume in Los Angeles.

However, with increased fear of terrorism around the world, travelers understand how misunderstandings quickly devolve into chaos and confusion. Here are some tips to remember in the unfortunate event you find yourself in an emergency situation at the airport.

Walk, don’t run

Earlier this month, after the attack in Nice, firecrackers were set off in Juan-les-Pins, France. Locals and tourists in the Mediterranean beach town started a mad stampede after mistaking the firecrackers for gunshots. Police said that 41 people were injured.

The domino effect is real in emergency situations and can quickly turn a harmless misunderstanding into a serious and dangerous situation. Keep calm and avoid running, while moving quickly if told to evacuate.

Don’t believe gossip

According to officials, part of what caused the widespread panic at JFK was a two-pronged attack of hoax 911 calls and word-of-mouth speculation.

Don’t believe anything until you’ve verified with airport officials “to ensure you have the most current and accurate information,” Los Angeles World Airports advises travelers. And avoid the temptation to speak about your theories rather than what’s actually been confirmed.

Listen to instructions

Airport officials are trained to respond to these types of situations. Follow instructions as they are given to ensure an efficient emergency response. In the (unlikely) event that airport officials are not on hand to provide information, proceed to the nearest, clearly-marked exit and wait for instruction.

STEP ahead if going abroad

If you’re traveling abroad, be sure to register with Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). The program will automatically notify you of any travel alerts on your route, make sure the U.S. embassy can get in touch with you during an emergency and allow family members to easily contact you if something does go wrong.

Leave your bags behind

You don’t need your luggage in an emergency. Just leave it behind.

If you require assistance

Find airport staff and let them know immediately that you will need additional assistance. There may be a specific evacuation area specifically designed for travelers with any sort of disability. Airport employees who are specially trained to provide extra assistance to travelers generally wear a brightly-colored jacket and are easily identifiable.

Cailey Rizzo writes about travel, art and culture and is the founding editor of The Local Dive. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter @misscaileyanne.

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