It is an unfortunate reality that the United States cannot seem to enjoy more than a few months without a highly visible, tragic and lethal attack on an unsuspecting public. The shooting at the Washington Navy Yard this morning stole the lives of 12 Americans who expected nothing more than another Monday spent serving their country. The former Naval Reservist Aaron Alexis entered the military facility in southeast Washington, DC, armed with an AR-15, a shotgun, a handgun and a deep well of indiscriminate hate.
As with other tragic, violent incidents, there is a fog of facts and speculation circulating in the media, and it is not yet clear how Alexis entered the Navy facility, why he did so or indeed, whether he acted alone. Those details will become clearer as the FBI investigation continues, although the “reason” for Alexis’ terrible actions will never make sense. These kinds of tragedies never do.
In the coming days, debates will rise in the press, in government and among the public. Some will use Alexis’ actions as an opportunity to champion a position on gun control. There will also be questions as to whether this was a case of workplace violence or an example of domestic terrorism. Assuredly, for the people who experienced the attack, and for the families of those who died, Alexis’ attack was terrorizing. There will also be hard questions about the level of security at the Navy Yard, and indeed, at all workplaces and government facilities. While debate and discussion is important, it will not diminish a repugnant reality. No place in this country is ever completely safe from the threat of violent actors.
After the first shots were fired this morning, the full force of Washington’s Park Police, Metro PD, FBI and an army of civil servants descended on the Navy Yard. This took a matter of minutes. Meanwhile, the employees within the buildings heard fire alarms and quickly fell back on previous drills and training, all either moving for an exit or sheltering in place. It would seem, at this point, that everyone did everything right – or at least, everything they could. And yet, Alexis was still able to heartlessly snuff out a dozen lives and severely wound others. Sometimes, no matter what one does, it is not enough to escape the evil, violent actions of others.
It is worth considering, however, how many lives were saved because of the quick and selfless efforts of DC law enforcement and emergency response. Just as important – how many people will kiss their families tonight because of the evident workplace training that pushed Navy Yard employees to rush for an exit or find a safe out-of-sight hiding place? It is a sad, regretful fact of 21st century America that attacks on innocent people in public areas happen. Even as the country and its leaders look for ways to prevent attacks of the kind seen today in Washington, the nation’s workforce should redouble its efforts to train and know what to do in the case of an active shooter.
The Department of Homeland Security website has a page dedicated to resources for public and private organizations to use in preparing for such a scenario. FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute also offers critical training and resources, as do state and local law enforcement and emergency response departments. Business owners, managers and individual employees should not take their safety for granted. The time to train and prepare is now. Tomorrow may be too late.
There are no good words following an incident that robs innocent life. There is no assuaging the grief felt across the country. Our flag flies at half-mast. Our thoughts and prayers are with the injured and the families of the dead. The effort to protect and secure the country is never ending. Today, we could not stop an evil actor before he took innocent life. Tomorrow, with hope and grace, we will do better.
Check back with Security Debrief for more news and analysis on the Navy Yard shooting and other homeland security issues.