Rich Cooper

Jun 11, 2009

Like thousands of commuters, I pass the Holocaust Museum twice a day coming into and out of DC.  At any hour of the day it is not unusual to see a number of security guards outside, as well as inside the building doing their jobs. Stephen Johns was there yesterday doing his and paid the ultimate price in serving the Museum, its mission and its visitors.

While the investigation into the tragic shooting remains unfolding and details are still coming together, we know a couple of things as fact:
•    Hate and its actionable practioners remain alive and well;
•    The security perimeter put at the front of the entrance of Museum stopped the lone gunman, James W. von Brunn from further entering the building to cause more carnage from occurring; and,
•    The training of Museum’s security force saved the lives of the numerous visitors yesterday.

By all of the eyewitness accounts of yesterday, Museum visitors spoke about the direction that the security guards yelled to them.  They were told to “Get down!” and “Get back in the exhibit area.”  From there the guards proceeded to safeguard the premises from further attack while attending to their fallen colleague and his attacker.  

None of this occurred by accident.  The men and women who worked their daily to secure the Museum and its visitors were trained in how to respond to the incident.  Yesterday proved that their training worked but it came at the cost of losing a colleague who treated his co-workers “like family” and who was “very courteous, very helpful.”

Undoubtedly there will be lessons learned by all parties in investigating the tragic incident, but if there is two things I hope are focused upon in the ensuing media coverage and investigators they would include the value of training programs and the need to improve our level of respect for security professionals of all type.

It is an almost guaranteed Pavlovian behavior that the first thing cut from any operating budget, regardless of whether it is a public or private sector organization, is training.  Investment in people and helping them to better succeed in their jobs and service to the community or company is single handedly the greatest return on investment that can be generated.  This is alto often a fact lost on bean-counters, but the actions of Stephen Johns and colleagues yesterday proved it at an extremely high-cost yesterday.

On the final point – respect, our society finds it all too easy to stereotype people and their professions and unfortunately security professionals have taken their brunt of mockery of late.  From movies such as Paul Blart: Mall Cop to some of the other recent portrayals that the media and society in general have made over the past couple of years, security guards in all of their forms have been made an easy target of mockery.  There are very real and very serious reasons we have these persons working daily in our places of work; the venues we visit with our families and friends; and looking after our facilities, monuments and more.  They are there looking after us and our well-being – a fact that Stephen Johns and his fellow security officers served yesterday.  They deserve our respect.  They also deserve our thanks – words all of us don’t say enough.

Think of that the next time you go into a museum, an office building or a theater.  They deserve it.

This piece was originally posted on Security Debrief.


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