Travelers can seem indifferent to the world around them when in an airport. Odd things happen in airports and train stations every day all over the world, however it is the job of law enforcement and security personnel the world over to spot these odd moments and prevent odd things from turning into something else.
Yesterday evening, around 6:20pm (UTC+8), Ji Zhongxing wheeled his wheelchair into Beijing Capital Airport’s Terminal 3 and began shouting in the International Arrivals exit area. As Mr. Zhongxing, a 34 year old from Shandong, continued to shout, he warned passers-by to move away from him and that was going to detonate a bomb. Despite the continual shouting, Mr. Zhongxing was largely ignored by passers-by, airport personnel and airport security personnel.
At 6:24pm (UTC+8) Mr. Zhongxing displayed a white package, a bomb, holding it over his head. Travelers in the airport proceeded to snap photos of the man holding up a bomb in his wheelchair, posting them to Weibo, rather than run for cover, and still airport authorities and police failed to react. No one at Beijing Capital Airport, an international gateway that moved nearly 82,000,000 passengers in 2012, seemed to take the threat of a man warning he would detonate a bomb with the seriousness you would expect … especially in an airport.
Once Mr. Zhongxing detonated his bomb, harming only himself and possible inflicting minor injury to a police officer, people near by crowded around the man in his wheelchair, not to render aid, but to continue snapping photographs and uploading them to Weibo, the dominant Chinese social media network.
The personal and political motives of Mr. Zhongxing are irrelevant to the failure to act by the airport’s security services. Airports around the world have sophisticated networks of security cameras; Beijing Capital Airport has no shortage of armed security personnel patrolling the terminals, airport staff are well trained in “see something, say something.” The biggest threat to airport security is a failure to be observant and that is what appears to happen at Beijing Capital Airport.
While the headlines of yesterday’s incident are about a Chinese protestor in a wheel chair setting off a homemade bomb, the story for me is how the security forces within the airport did not immediately react.
The police at Beijing Capital Airport had a few minutes from the time Mr. Zhongxing rolled into Terminal 3 and when he detonated the bomb, ample time to have cleared the area, ample time to have attempted to establish a conversation with Mr. Zhongxing and given the various types of non-lethal weapons available to the airport police in Beijing, potentially neutralize the threat.
What happened yesterday, which can be seen in photos on Twitter, is that people are freely walking past Mr. Zhongxing as he holds up his homemade bomb, after he began shouting a warning for them to stay away. The authorities at Beijing Capital Airport failed to secure the area in any manner, leaving people well within the potential blast radius. More shocking is that in the photos found on Twitter and Weibo, police can only be seen in the images after the explosion.
While many people significantly dislike airport security, it exists as a multi-layered system in airports for a reason, one of those reasons is to prevent people from walking into a terminal and setting off a bomb … especially when the man with the bomb enters the terminal in a wheel chair, parks his chair, shouts a warning to everyone that they should move away before he detonates the bomb, displays the bomb over his head and continues shouting unimpeded by anyone.
What caused airport security and law enforcement to not react to the glaringly obvious? That remains to be seen. Will Beijing Capital Airport adjust its reactionary procedures? One can only hope that this situation is studied and effective long-term changes are implemented
… oh … and if you are an airport, or anywhere, and someone is screaming for you to move away because they have a bomb, you should probably move away.