Congressmen say active shooter false alarm at Walter Reed caused by inadvertent alert sent to 4,000 people

Police respond to a report of an active shooter at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center which turned out to be a false alarm.
Police respond to a report of an active shooter at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center which turned out to be a false alarm. (Jose Luis Magana / AP)

Two Maryland congressmen who raised concerns after a false alarm about an active shooter caused an 80-minute lockdown at the Walter Reed National Medical Center campus last month say they are satisfied the U.S. Navy is “taking proactive steps” to prevent similar occurrences in the future.

U.S. Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, who was at the Bethesda military hospital at the time of the incident, and U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, who represents the area, issued a joint statement on the matter Friday after receiving a briefing from Navy officials Tuesday, they said.


“Our concerns center on the welfare of the patients at Walter Reed — many of which are veterans suffering from PTSD and brain injuries — as well as the conflicting messaging that came from the various social media accounts of responding agencies,” the congressman said. “After a lengthy discussion, we are satisfied that Naval officials share our concerns and are taking proactive steps to correct deficiencies identified during this event.”

Walter Reed is the nation’s largest joint military medical center. Ruppersberger had been there for a personal medical appointment.


The Nov. 27 lockdown led many military personnel and other patients to barricade doors and hide in back rooms, fearing they were in danger of being shot. Ruppersberger tweeted about the incident from a back room behind a pharmacy in the hospital before he was aware it was a false alarm.

Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger is at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, where an active shooter has been reported on Tuesday afternoon.

In their statement Friday, the congressmen said that, according to their Naval briefing, the incident began when a service member assigned to one the entities housed on the campus “inadvertently sent messages stating ‘Exercise Active Shooter’ and ‘Exercise Suspicious Package’” to about 4,000 people — via voice calls, text messages and emails.

That service member was preparing for a drill and only intended the message to go to a small group, but was not properly trained to use the system, the congressmen said.

About 15 minutes later, a clerk in an oncology unit reported receiving phone messages about an active shooter. That person did not recall hearing the word “exercise” or “drill,” and set into motion “pre-planned responses for an active shooter event,” the congressmen said.

Ruppersberger brought up his concern for soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder and other illnesses and medical issues at the time of the incident, and said he would be following up with Navy leaders to find out what had occurred.

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“It was botched. Somebody messed up,” Ruppersberger said that day. “I’m going to get with the Pentagon and find out how this happened.”

Now, the congressmen said, the Navy will be taking several steps.

They will be reevaluating who has access to the alert system, training system users on new procedures, and “setting new controls to prevent a test from triggering an actual response,” the congressmen said.

They will also be revising the campus Emergency Management Plan and protocols for communication between entities on the campus during emergencies, and developing “the ability to provide first responders with keys/access cards and blueprints for all installation buildings,” the congressmen said.

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