MONTPELIER — A senior state official has responded to concerns about security within the Capitol Complex after reports that a man with a gun entered a state building on Friday that turned out to be a disruptive false alarm.
Secretary of Administration Suzanne Young said Wednesday there is still an ongoing investigation to determine the veracity of the reported sighting.
“We reacted to very credible information that there may be someone with a firearm in a state office building,” Young said.
Montpelier Police Chief Tony Facos said law enforcement was notified shortly after 11 a.m. that two people witnessed someone with “a long gun,” walking across State Street and entering 133 State St., where the offices of the Vermont Tax Department are located.
“The information that led to the initial response is that everything appeared to be very credible,” Facos said Saturday.
Federal, state and local law enforcement agencies quickly sealed off the Capitol Complex and closed State Street to traffic between Bailey Avenue and Taylor Street.
Officers wearing body armor and carrying rifles entered 133 State St., and evacuated the building in stages to different locations, with some people walking across the State House lawn, while others used an underground tunnel to reach the Pavilion Building, where the governor’s administrative offices are located.
Gov. Phil Scott was not in the building at the time,” Young said.
The Department of Motor Vehicles was also partially locked down, with visitors only permitted to enter via the rear entrance.
Officers spent several hours twice sweeping 133 State St. and 6 Baldwin St. – which is also connected to the tax department building via an underground tunnel. The Bailey Street facility is home to the offices of the Agency of Agriculture Services, Defender General, Workers Compensation and Prevention, and Buildings and General Services Security Division.
As a precaution, Montpelier schools were placed on “lock-out,” with classes continuing but no one allowed to leave or enter school buildings until the “all-clear” was given.
That notification did not come until 1:45 p.m.
City Hall was not locked down, according to City Manager Bill Fraser.
Despite the risk to state officials and employees and the general public, there was no VT Alert – a Vermont Emergency Management statewide alert system in the event of an emergency. Anyone can sign up for the alerts at www.vem.vermont.gov/vtalert
Young said she was in her office in the Pavilion Building when the alert to state employees went out.
“We were alerted through our emergency procedure for an incident of this nature through a communication from BGS and then the team in the Pavilion followed its emergency operations response plan for lockdowns,” Young said. “The lockdowns means no egress or ingress and you can continue your business in your office, but you can’t leave.
“We have a communications system internal to this building with BGS, so we were constantly knowing what was happening in the Pavilion and at BGS,” she added.
Young said a review of protocols around security in a situation like Friday’s already was under way – and made all the more important by the wave of mass shootings across the nation, including the third in August in Odessa, Texas – the day after the incident in Montpelier.
“I think we all have to acknowledge that we are living in a society where we have to be very mindful of the dangers that we maybe not have to have thought about in the past,” Young said. “Security is very important, the safety and security of the state employees and the general public who are in our buildings is very important. We have taken those challenges very seriously.”
Young said there had been “a schedule of security hardening and upgrades in state buildings” over the last two and a half years, following the shooting death by Jody Herring of social worker Lara Sobel outside the field offices of the Department of Children and Families in Barre in August 2015.
“With any situation like this that occurred on Friday, there already is an after-action review being conducted,” Young said. “There are going to be meetings held, both external and internal, with the law enforcement who responded, with state employees who were impacted, with our emergency coordinators in all of the buildings.
“We’ll review communications and we will get better at this and a critical part of our preparation is learning how a real incident unfolded and where we can do better and what can be improved,” she added.
As for screening people entering the State House, Young said that was a decision that would have to be made by the Chief Matthew Romei and Capitol Police Department, which provides security at the State House, as well as the Legislature.
“I have to defer to the chief of the Capitol Police and the legislature as to whether they feel that’s necessary in light of Friday or just in light of what’s been going on (nationally),” Young said. “I know that’s been part of a perennial conversation there and the desire to keep an open building for the people’s work and providing the right level of security.
It is not a decision to be taken lightly.
“They have their own security advisers and their own chief and we’re happy to join in any conversation or feedback they may want from us but it’s going to be ultimately their decision. Undoubtedly, this will probably prompt that conversation internally in the legislative branch and I would be surprised if it did not,” Young added.