Perhaps Marty Bodrog of Annandale, VA, had a greater expectation of safety at his workplace than most Americans. After all, he worked at a military facility. Special ID was required to access the grounds, let alone move from building to building. In theory armed security would spring to action if said ID ever failed electronic inspection.
But fellow civilian worker Aaron Alexis showed an ID just as valid as Bodrog’s when he arrived at the Washington Navy Yard one fateful day in September. He carried a duffel bag that no one bothered to check. After gaining entry to Building 197, home of the Naval Sea Systems Command, Alexis removed a Remington 870 pump action shotgun from the duffel bag and began firing.
The massacre that followed continued for nearly an hour. When not shooting into offices and cubicles on the third and fourth floors, Alexis fired down into the building’s atrium at victims below.
Finally, during a fierce gun battle with authorities, Alexis was killed.
The final toll was 13 dead, including Alexis, and eight injured. Bodrog, 54, was among the dead.
Bodrog worked on developing Navy amphibious vessels. At his church he led a Bible study class and helped with youth programs. He was a rabid Boston Bruins hockey fan. Bodrog was fully participating in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Homicide is currently the fourth-leading cause of fatal occupational injuries in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, of the 4,383 fatal workplace injuries that occurred in the United States in 2012, 463 were workplace homicides. Shootings were the most frequent manner of death in those homicides. Of the 338 fatal work injuries involving female workers, 29 percent involved homicides.
Most of the criticism after the Washington shooting focused on the fact that Alexis had a security clearance despite a disturbing track record of mental illness. Any clever debater can turn that issue to support the side of the argument he favors. Some will say our security personnel are too overburdened and underpaid to meet the growing demand. Others will charge that security personnel we hire are too lazy and incompetent to make it as “real” law officers.
However the security clearance issue is interpreted, one glaring failure outshines all the others. How did Alexis get a shotgun and ammunition past a minimum of two security checkpoints? Were briefcases, backpacks and other personal possessions brought into the facility routinely inspected? Maybe those items were only inspected when people left, not entered.
It does not seem like security at the Washington Navy Yard was that much tougher than the average industrial facility. A pass pinned to your pocket gets you in and gets you out. Maybe the guard checks the number or maybe not. Compared to the average drive-through bank or gas station, the guard shack looks about as secure as your granny’s outhouse.
Routine becomes the enemy of strict security. It kills initiative. Watching the gate becomes as mind numbing as checking for chipped bottles on a product assembly line. Instead of staying open to any number of potential dangers, the guard’s mind shuts down to two or three items that can quickly be checked from a list.
A chemical plant in Texas City came up with one of the best ways to puncture the routine. At the front gate a glass tube was loaded with 100 marbles. Ten of those marbles were black, the rest were white. Each driver arriving at the front gate drew a marble. If the marble was black, the car was pulled over to one side for a complete search, right down to a mirror on a long pole to check underneath.
Because the searches were completely random, no one could complain of harassment. Even better, it kept the security personnel alert. As a deterrent, it put employees on notice. There was a one-in-ten chance that anything brought in or taken out of the plant would be discovered.
Such a system might have given the late Marty Bodrog better odds for survival.
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