This morning’s shooting at the Washington, D.C. Navy Yard calls to mind the constant need for training and the proper application of security techniques. The Navy Yard, home to over 3,000 civilian employees, is also the site of the Naval Historical Society and Museum, a space that is open to the public five days a week. Anyone with a driver’s license or valid ID card must go through only a brief security check – more of a head to toe gaze – in order to get onto the base. A bag search may not go farther than a pat and a stare.
As an intern for the Naval Historical Society in August 2012, I received a piece of paper stating my name and reason for being on the base to gain access to the Navy Yard. Each morning as I walked into work I was required to show only this piece of paper and my driver’s license. I was often exempt from bag checks.
The base itself operates as the location for a variety of naval divisions. These include Nav Sea, NCIS [Naval Criminal Investigative Service], and the Naval History and Heritage Command. The base also houses the Navy Ceremonial Guard. These divisions consist of a mix of civilian and uniformed personnel working for the Navy. When briefing the press, local authorities theorized that there were two possible suspects at large. The suspects were believed to be wearing standard issue military uniforms. Given the amount of civilian employees on base, someone wearing the right uniform with a government ID would easily be able to get onto the base. For visiting personnel, the only form of identification required is a properly stamped piece of paper identifying the holder and his or her reason for being on the base.
Speaking under condition of anonymity a former naval employee who was familiar with the security layout said that “with a DOD [Department of Defense] sticker, yard pass, or proper ID I never witnessed any car inspections for civilians or military personnel.” He continued, “cars have been allowed in prior years to park there on Washington Nationals game days.” These cars were also not subject to inspection. The Nationals were scheduled to face the Atlanta Braves at home this evening.
The base would have been a flurry of activity when the gunmen opened fire this morning. As thousands of people descended on the Waterfront area for work it would not have been difficult for any assailant, civilian or otherwise, to gain access to the base. A civilian employee or military personnel could have gained access to the base last evening or early this morning, parked their vehicle, and then returned to it later to retrieve any weapons hidden inside.
Will this shooting align itself with the Boston Marathon or Fort Hood incidents? Is the assailant military or civilian? Does the shooting’s location, building 197, home to NavSea naval communications have anything to do with the war ships parked off the Syrian coast? Anyone who has gone into or out of the Navy Yard should be wondering aloud: why is it easier to get into the Navy Yard than it is most public buildings in Washington, D.C.?
Douglas Barclay is an intern with Rare and former Navy contractor.