Senate Staffers Instructed to ‘Attack’ in Gunman Situation
Congressional law enforcement agents advised staff on Wednesday to run and hide in the event a shooter attacks, but as a last resort, police said: “Attack.”
Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer, Capitol Police Chief Phillip Morse and representatives from the FBI addressed about 200 Senate staffers in the Dirksen Senate Office Building and handed out a Department of Homeland Security packet called “Active Shooter, How to Respond.”
“Don’t sit around and wait to be shot,” Gainer told the staffers and an additional 360 offices that viewed the event online. “Attack. Attack loudly. And hopefully some good will come out of it to someone.”
The pamphlet, dated October 2008, stressed preparedness and prevention and advised staffers to call law enforcement first.
“As a last resort, and only when your life is in imminent danger, attempt to disrupt and/or incapacitate the active shooter by: Acting aggressively as possible against him/her, throwing items and improvising weapons, yelling [and] committing to your actions,” the pamphlet said.
The Capitol Police handed out their own paperwork, advising district offices to appoint a law enforcement liaison, preferably an office manager, who can be responsible for security.
The packet also had extensive checklists for securing district offices, including preventively monitoring security alarms, limiting direct access to Members, locking doors and converting an interior office into a “temporary safe haven room.”
“The major message to those offices was: ‘We have not forgotten you out there. You have the tough job because you don’t have 1,800 officers around you, and there’s a lot of unknowns,’” Gainer said after the presentation. “I think we were trying to calm their fears.”
Gainer also addressed why no alerts went out to Senators and staff immediately following reports of the shooting in Tucson, Ariz.
“We have a campuswide [alert] system; we’ve struggled with this over the years whether we do simultaneous messages or not,” Gainer said, adding that he and Morse were on the phone moments after the shooting occurred.
Gainer said the reason the initial message did not go out until three hours after the attack was because he wanted to make sure he had helpful information to distribute.
“I don’t like those messages that go out and say ‘be careful.’ I don’t think that provides much guidance,” he said. “I did delay [sending a message] with our people, trying to get a little bit more concrete information. We were very much involved.”
In the aftermath of Saturday’s Tucson shooting that left Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) hospitalized, Members have been doing their own outreach to district staffers to appease safety concerns.
“As we saw here in the tragedy in Tucson, staff is at risk as much as Members are at risk,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said. “I’ve been talking with my staff in the district and just to get their views and their thoughts about how we might do anything differently than we are doing.”
Even before the deadly attack, Rep. Norm Dicks said he noticed that this past term and the most recent campaign included more threats than he had ever seen in his Congressional career.
“We’ve had to go to court to get restraining orders during the campaign,” the Washington Democrat said. Now, “we’re locking our doors so that there’s a waiting area and you can tell who [the visitor] is, because we have had problems with local people in the district.”
Rep. Bobby Rush is considering moving his district office, located on Chicago’s south side, to a safer part of the city in response to staff concerns about recent slayings in the area, the Democrat’s spokeswoman Sharon Jenkins said.
Other Members, such as Rep. G.K. Butterfield, have said they will simply beef up security in their district offices.
“I’m going to make sure we have a bulletproof entrance, and we’ll probably do some other things, simple things, like putting the chief of police on speed dial,” the North Carolina Democrat said.
In Texas, staffers to Rep. Silvestre Reyes often go out alone on mobile constituent service trips, the Democrat said. But he’s spoken to his staff since the Arizona shooting and is now instituting the buddy system.
“Some of them felt uncomfortable with some of the situations where constituents had had comments,” he said. “And so we’re sending two staffers now.”