As violent rioters breached the Capitol on Jan. 6, some Architect of the Capitol employees did not know what protective actions to take, a result of several emergency preparedness shortcomings highlighted by the agency’s inspector general.
The flash report, released April 27, found Architect of the Capitol plans and emergency management training did not sufficiently address situations involving active shooters and civil disturbances and the existing emergency policies regarding those events were not updated. Further, the agency lacked consistent, integrated emergency preparedness training with the other legislative branch organizations working in the Capitol.
“We received information from AOC employees that some AOC staff did not know what protective actions to take while inside of the Capitol building as events unfolded on January 6,” Architect of the Capitol Inspector General Christopher P. Failla wrote in his report.
Because of COVID-19, the AOC was limited in its ability to conduct training but shifted to virtual sessions and held two agencywide exercises in 2020. One focused on how teams would run initial surveys to assess damage after an incident. The other was a snow removal exercise. There was limited online active shooter training for employees in the Capitol Visitor Center, but the rest of the agency was not included.
“We found that while a small number of Capitol Visitor Center employees received virtual training on active shooter scenarios in 2020, the rest of the agency did not,” Failla wrote.
Failla’s review of AOC emergency preparedness training in 2019 and 2020 found that it mostly focused on natural disasters like tornadoes and storms and not on “imminent security threats.”
The review notes a House staffer’s account of panic buttons that were unknowingly removed from Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Ayanna S. Pressley’s office, an issue the report says underscores the need for life safety drills and inspections that ensure equipment is ready for use.
“None of the planned drills and exercises that we reviewed for 2019 or 2020 related to protestors or civil disturbances,” Failla noted.
An integrated training and exercise program that includes all Capitol complex employees could be beneficial to collective emergency preparedness on the campus.
Feb. 25, 2019, was the last time all legislative branch organizations participated in a campus-wide shelter-in-place exercise, the subject of which was a severe weather event.
The agency’s emergency action response plan had a limited amount of information on what employees should do in case of a riot in the Capitol complex.
Around October 2020, there was a pause in AOC’s emergency management policy update process. Updates regarding an active shooter, evacuations, protective actions, and emergency action response training are still under review.
“It is imperative to keep policies and procedures up-to-date and synchronized with relevant guidance to address known and unknown threats such as active shooter, workplace violence, protestors, and civil disturbances,” the inspector general wrote. “As a result, the lack of updated policy guidance increases the probability for process gaps and awareness in emergency management across the AOC.”
In March, a bill was introduced that would mandate that House lawmakers and staff undergo emergency preparedness training.
Laura Condeluci, a spokesperson for AOC, did not respond to a request for comment.