Once again, the US has fallen victim to another mass shooting. In the aftermath of this terrible event, it’s easy to find new articles that try to explain the inexplicable or find meaning in the face of yet another day of terror for ordinary people. However, the shooting of five employees at the Capital Gazette in Maryland shows us that in the US (at the very least) any workplace is a target for violence at any time.
Jarrod Ramos, the accused shooter, was already known to the Capital Gazette for having trolled and threatened the newspaper. Further, he already had a criminal history, having been charged with stalking and harassing a former classmate, indicating that he was a psychologically troubled man. Despite being known as a credible threat to the company, authorities were unable to provide any lasting protections against him.
Nevertheless, the facts of that terrible day reveal a perpetrator who deliberately planned his attack. Ramos barricaded the exits and targeted his victims specifically, later turning on anyone who tried to leave the building. While it’s known that he had a long-standing grudge against the Capital Gazette for publishing an article about his previous criminal charges, it remains unclear why he decided to act now, and in such an incredibly violent manner.
It is difficult to assess cruelty of this kind. Even though the US already implements active shooter security policy in every workplace and public space, volatile human behaviour is an aspect of life that no policy or process can ever adequately plan for. Unfortunately, we only learn our lessons about active shooter events in hindsight.
As soon as the shooting had commenced, it appeared that Capital Gazette staff already knew to hide under desks and stay away from the shooter’s line of sight. Ramos deliberately targeted the victims in their news room before hiding under a desk himself and being apprehended by the police. Upon his capture, police officials confirmed that they had also removed an explosive device that Ramos had allegedly planted.
As with the appropriate actions taken by the Capital Gazette’s staff, authorities also made use of the Maryland Image Repository System (MIRS) to identify the shooter after his arrest. The technology (considered controversial, as it risks violating privacy laws) proved to be useful after it was alleged that Ramos had damaged his own fingerprints to avoid identification. The MIRS, like the implementation of active shooter procedures, proved to be useful in this event. Despite their usefulness, there is still little that well-implemented policy or security technology can do, other than minimise casualties.
This tragedy will be another notch in the already long list of mass shootings that have occurred in the US this year. Once again, security policy will be reviewed and re-assessed for its relevance in these kinds of events. It can be argued that active shooter procedures are already somewhat effective, given that the Capital Gazette staff knew how to hide in the premises or evacuate the area appropriately. Likewise, police technology is becoming sophisticated enough that it can identify and charge people appropriately during active investigations.
Security planning can only go so far. We can train every employee, student or official to carry out efficient security procedures to keep them safe, but only up to a point. Security policy can only keep so many people safe, and sadly, every contingency cannot always be covered. However, it is important to take small successes where you can, and use those to develop even better policies and procedures for the future. An active shooter event is an act of madness; they are difficult to predict, and harder to plan for. As long as there is a willingness to learn from past mistakes, and be flexible and sensible with security police development, there is always the hope of minimising risk even if you are still faced with tragedy.