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News Maryland Harford County Aberdeen Havre De Grace

APG officials say workforce safety is 'our highest priority' after Navy Yard shooting

Officials at Harford County's huge military installation, Aberdeen Proving Ground, and defense contractors which operate local facilities, are being tight-lipped about their security protocols and any changes made following the shooting rampage at the Washington Navy Yard Monday.

Police say Aaron Alexis, a civilian working for a government contractor, used his security pass to enter the navy yard on the district's southeast side, where he shot and killed 12 people and wounded eight others, before police shot Alexis to death.

About 21,000 military, civilian and contractor employees work at Aberdeen Proving Ground, according to the U.S. Army Garrison at APG, making the 72,000-acre post Harford County's largest employer and one of the largest employment centers in the state.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and victims of the Navy Yard incident," Kelly Luster, public affairs chief for the Army garrison at APG, wrote in an e-mail Tuesday. "The safety and well-being of our workforce is our highest priority."

Luster noted officials at the Army installation "do not discuss changes fundamental in preventing unfriendly elements from harming our most important assets, our service members, civilian employees and family members."

"Our personnel remain vigilant and fully prepared to react to activities that may threaten our workforce, families and missions," Luster said.

Like most federal military installations, security at APG was ramped up following the September 2001 terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York City, the Pentagon in Virginia and in rural southwestern Pennsylvania. In the aftermath, the new security protocols and checkpoints were implemented, with visiting vehicles being subjected to exterior and interior searches. Some entrances were closed permanently, and others were segregated between employees and visitors.

Large contractor presence

In the past decade, the number of defense contractors and contractor employees in Harford County has grown exponentially because of base realignment, or BRAC, that expanded APG's role in electronics, computer and basic weapons research.

Major contractors with local offices admitted they were reluctant to talk about their own security situation in the wake of Monday's shootings at the Washington Navy Yard.

"The improvement cycle for physical security is something that's ongoing, but beyond that, that's not something we would want to discuss in any detail because of the nature of the issue," James Fisher, a spokesman for Booz Allen Hamilton, said Tuesday.

Booz Allen Hamilton is a firm that offers consulting, engineering and technology services, and is headquartered in McLean, Va., according to the company website. Its Maryland facilities include an significant operation in Belcamp, between Aberdeen Proving Ground's two main areas in Aberdeen and Edgewood.

"Whether there is an event or not, we're always looking at what adjustments we need to make [to security]," Fisher said.

Katy Delaney, a spokeswoman for Battelle Memorial Institute, a nonprofit research and development group headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, declined in an interview Tuesday to discuss any changes to security at the organization's facility in Aberdeen, which is about three miles east of the post's main gate for employees and contractors.

She noted three Battelle employees were working at the Navy Yard Monday.

"We have three Battelle employees who were working at the Navy Yard and who were, thankfully, spared from injury and death," Delaney wrote in an e-mail. "Our hearts go out to the victims, their families, friends and co-workers."

Another major defense contractor, SAIC of McLean, Va., has Harford County offices in Aberdeen, Abingdon and Edgewood and specializes in cybersecurity, engineering, health and national security, according to its website.

SAIC spokesman Gary Bracken said no new security protocols "have been put in place for Aberdeen or other facilities as a result of the Washington Navy Yard tragedy."

"We have a good solid security program in place for the company across all our facilities," Bracken explained. "We have security awareness training for all of our employees to keep them informed and we routinely do security exercises to practice responses to various scenarios."

Bracken said company officials also have methods of identifying and getting in touch with employees involved in a security-related incident.

Local police vigilant

Aberdeen police spokesman Lt. Fred Budnick said the city's police department does not expect to review any of its security measures in light of the shootings in Washington.

Although the city is next to a military post, Budnick said the police department has not heard of any potential threats or reasons why it should review its security procedures.

"We have good lines of communication with [APG]," he said, adding the post would inform the department of any relevant changes or situations.

Alexis, who investigators say carried out the shooting alone, had been a Naval reservist and was working at the Navy Yard as a defense contractor. About 3,000 civilian and military employees work in the building where the shooting took place, according to CNN. Total employment at the Navy Yard is 16,000.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered a "worldwide review" of security at U.S. military facilities after the shootings, CNN reported Tuesday.

Pentagon officials also are planning to review procedures for providing security clearances to defense contractors.

Alexis had been arrested three times since 2004, including two incidents involving firearms, and was discharged from the Navy following a "pattern of misconduct," CNN reported, citing an unnamed defense source.

Monday's shooting was the worst at a U.S. military installation since the Nov. 5, 2009, massacre at Fort Hood, Texas, where 13 people were shot to death and more than 30 others injured by an Army major with Muslim jihadist ties. Among those killed at Ft. Hood was Harford resident Lt. Col. Juanita Warman, an psychiatric nurse practitioner from Havre de Grace, who had arrived at Fort Hood in preparation to deploy to Iraq just hours before she was killed.

None of the people killed at the Washington Navy Yard was from Harford County.

Aegis reporter Bryna Zumer contributed to this story.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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