When the radio announcer reported that people had been shot at the NAVSEA building in Washington, D.C.’s Navy Yard, I felt a pit in stomach. My husband works there.
I looked at the time, wondering if he was already at work. I tried to get ahold of myself. “Perhaps he had not arrived,” I hoped. Noticing a couple voice mail messages, I pressed the play button.
The Navy Yard was roped off, his message said, so he was coming home. My calls to him were unsuccessful. I did not know where he was. I called a friend, recalling the times I had gone through the security gate to pick up my husband from work or take my girls to summer camp at the Naval Museum. I have always felt safe on military bases.
I spent several days at the Naval Museum while my girls were in summer camp as back-up for my diabetic daughter. The Naval Museum is small and unpretentious, but carries the history of the Navy since colonial America. When you walk out its doors, you can see the U.S.S. Barry resting peacefully in the waters. During Halloween, it’s a haunted ship.
My husband made it home. He had been walking to the Navy Yard about 15 minutes after the first shooting. Unable to get to work, he was on his way back to the Metro Station when he saw people surrounding a bleeding man lying on the street corner.
He helped police put up the yellow “Do Not Cross” tape and that picture, shown above, is running on news websites. My good husband (center, holding the yellow tape) saw the man was bleeding from the left side of his head. He did not know the rumor that the bleeding man was the first victim of the shooting. We still don’t know for sure.
A former employee’s missing ID becomes a ticket to the unimaginable.
Knowing what a nervous wreck I would be, he hurried home.
I am among the blessed. Not only was my husband OK, but he was home to watch the Navy Yard story unfold. But my relief was temporary as I considered his co-workers. Some, we knew, were safely moved to another building, waiting for endless hours to leave. Some managed to escape out of the Navy Yard by climbing its tall surrounding old brick walls. And since they have not yet announced casualties, we still do not know who did not make it.
A Risky World
Risk managers cannot help but be reminded that there are limits to their craft. There is only so much that can be done to assure workplace safety. If this had happened at a non-military workplace, the first effort would be to beef up security.
But the Navy Yard, like all military installations, already has strict security. You can’t get in without an ID card and explanation of your presence. Often, entering the buildings requires additional review. With thousands of workers, most of whom are civilians, the perfect system can fail. A former employee’s missing ID becomes a ticket to the unimaginable.
For me, this horrific crime is a reminder that life is, and has always been, fragile and risky. And while we can do all we can to assure safety, there will always be events we cannot anticipate or control.
To live in the Washington, D.C. area, you have to make peace with that. Whether it is fear of nuclear war during the cold war or passing by the Pentagon and remembering 9/11, there is a low level sense that something else is likely to happen, or a wondering of what has been prevented.
We are still left wondering who has been lost from this tragedy. May our thoughts and prayers be limitless.
Note: We have confirmation that the man lying on the street was the first shooting victim. To read more about the picture, please visit http://www.theatlanticwire.com/national/2013/09/viral-navy-yard-photo-related-after-all/69647/.
Postscript — There are rare times when the Washington, D.C. area feels like a small town. I was shocked to find out how many people of my acquaintance that knew the victims and/or their families. Recovering from this experience is a painful and ongoing process for so many.
The building’s interior is being modified with a new layout and other features so it feels like a different building inside.