Coast Guard, Navy tighten security after shootings

In the wake of the shootings at the Washington Navy Yard, security is tightening at Navy and Coast Guard bases in Connecticut.

"Where it gets tricky is, we do need people to come on bases. We can't just be this self-contained little bubble," Lt. Jeff Janaro, spokesman for Coast Guard Sector Long Island Sound, said. "It's just the nature of what we do. We need different technicians, service providers and deliveries. And that's the challenge."

The sector now mandates that base visitors receive the security officer's approval in advance and that the gate receive a written notice before the visitors arrive. The written notice has been used in the past, but a visitor also could call the person with whom they had an appointment and that person could vouch for them at the gate.

Before the shootings, the sector already was in the process of tightening its security as part of an annual review, Janaro said, but the incident did cause them to evaluate their procedures further.

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus has approved changes to the Navy's security procedures, which will affect the Naval Submarine Base in Groton.

On Sept. 16, Aaron Alexis, a contractor and former Navy reservist, used his pass to get into the Washington Navy Yard and shoot 12 people before he was killed in a police shootout, according to authorities. The shooting was the deadliest on a military installation in this country since the attack at Fort Hood in Texas in 2009.

"Not again," was how Janaro described the reaction at the sector. The sector's command center is in New Haven, less than an hour from Newtown and Sandy Hook Elementary School, and two hours from Boston, the site of the marathon bombings.

"All of those people showed up at work that day feeling like they were in a very, very secure work environment," Janaro said. "It's disconcerting and it's sad. And it does make you say, 'Are we doing everything we possibly can to prevent this from happening here?'"

The command center is not open to the public. Visitor forms must be submitted for contractors, delivery drivers, anyone on official business by Coast Guard and civilian personnel.

"If we were doing full body searches for everyone who comes on base, we would never get anything done," Janaro said. "The middle ground, between an effective security program while still allowing the base to operate, that's what we're after."

Capt. Eric C. Jones, assistant superintendent at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, said the academy is constantly evaluating and refining its security plan, both to respond to world events and to introduce changes randomly to keep the security program agile.

The academy now checks the identification of everyone who enters the campus, not just vehicle drivers. They periodically alter traffic patterns so vehicles are not too close to certain structures, and they randomly search vehicles, Jones said.

After several smaller drills, the academy plans to conduct an active-shooter exercise with local and state law enforcement officials next month.

Mabus has approved two changes to the Navy's security procedures so far. The security manager's responsibilities at Navy commands must be assigned to executive officers or other senior members instead of junior officers, and more senior officers will oversee individual evaluations and fitness reports.

Juan M. Garcia III, assistant secretary of the Navy for manpower and reserve affairs, studied Alexis' service record. One recommendation, which would need Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's approval, is that Office of Personnel Management investigative reports include any available police documents related to the subject of the background check.

Chris Zendan, spokesman for the Groton base, said he could not say how the changes would be implemented because the base does not discuss the specifics of the security protocols.

Robert Hamilton, spokesman for Electric Boat, said the company does not discuss security arrangements.

j.mcdermott@theday.com

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