Monday’s deadly shooting at Washington’s Navy Yard led to uneven security measures across the Capitol complex as armored vehicles rolled around the East Front of the Capitol and Capitol Police officers donned enhanced tactical gear. But the two chambers went in different directions regarding protocol for staff and members, and the Capitol Visitor Center continued to give tours up until closing time at 4:30 p.m.
The Senate recessed shortly after convening at 2 p.m. Monday, and Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer gave Senate employees a shelter-in-place order about an hour later.
The House, meanwhile, convened for a brief pro forma session at 2 p.m. and recessed, but it did not give any order to shelter in place or lock down the chamber.
Shortly before the House pro forma session, at 1:30 p.m., House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving sent an email to House staff.
“The facts available from the shootings at the Navy Yard continue to evolve,” he wrote. “Information about additional shooters is yet unclear, and not confirmed. We are evaluating available intelligence and evidence. There is no information indicating the Capitol Complex, staff, visitors or Members are at risk. The USCP has implemented substantial additional security measures. We will keep you apprised of information,” Irving’s notice stated.
Gainer’s notice, which went out at 3:12 p.m. stated: “In light of the uncertainty surrounding the shooting at the Navy Yard this morning and particularly the possibility of suspects remaining at large, we have decided to lock down the Senate complex. You may move about the building; however, for the next two hours you may not leave nor can anyone enter the building. This will be in effect until we deem the situation safe in the neighboring community.”
The result, at least for a few hours, was that no one could leave the Senate chamber, unless, of course, they walked across the Rotunda to the House. A group of six Capitol Police officers stood on the Senate side of the Rotunda during the lockdown, warning anyone who approached that if they crossed out of the Senate side of the Capitol, they would not be allowed to return.
The Capitol Visitor Center was never locked down. “We did not shut down during the lockdown, and we were still receiving visitors right up to our 4:30 p.m. closing time. The lockdown had no impact on our tours,” Tom Fontana, director of communications for the CVC, told CQ Roll Call.
“It’s been business as usual up here. Other than the increased Capitol Police presence and security being pretty tight, nothing has changed,” Senate Periodical Press Gallery Director Ed Pesce said shortly before the lockdown order was issued.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.