NASA officials said Saturday that they plan to reassess security at the Johnson Space Center as well as the human-resources policies that may have contributed to Friday's murder-suicide.
But they defended the current security measures and warned that extensive searches of all cars entering the gates to the 1,600-acre facility where 10,000 report to work every day would be time-consuming, costly and possibly ineffective.
"I will not say anything is on the table or off," NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said Saturday after meetings with Johnson Space Center Director Mike Coats and Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt.
"But I will point out that when an employee badged into a center or a building of any kind is allowed to come into that building, has decided that he wishes to avenge a grudge and is willing to die in the process, it is essentially impossible to stop such a person."
Procedures in place
Currently, NASA's armed security forces staff the gates at entrances to the installation, which plans and executes missions of the space shuttle and assembly of the international space station.
Security officers handle and examine the NASA picture badges issued to workers. Firearms are prohibited, and cars are searched randomly for weapons.
Some of the tightest security is exercised in Mission Control, with guards and metal detectors in the lobby.
Key cards are also required to move about the building.
Lobbies of administration buildings are staffed with armed guards.
But Johnson has more than 100 buildings, some with metal detectors used only occasionally.
Much of the installation is monitored by video cameras.
After the shootings at Virginia Tech last week, Johnson's security team reassessed the measures in place and determined major changes were not warranted, Coats said.
However, Friday's unprecedented murder-suicide in an office test lab at the center, allegedly at the hands of a contractor who feared he would be fired, will prompt another look.
"It's very important for people to have the opportunity to talk about their concerns. If they have concerns about security in the workplace, it's important to answer their questions and reassure them," Coats said.
"As far as searching (every) car, we would literally have to dismantle every car every day as people drove in. With 10,000 employees, that is probably not very realistic."
According to Randall Larson, director of the Institute for Homeland Security in Alexandria, Va., the threats posed by violence in the workplace and on school campuses could be better addressed through human-resources policies that recognize and respond to troubled workers quickly.
"We are asking the wrong questions, whether we are talking about Virginia Tech or NASA," Larson said, "I don't think the focus should be on the gun. That will cost you millions of dollars. It's going to slow your efficiency and probably not going to prevent anything. He could have just as easily used a baseball bat, a jar of acid, a tire iron. There are a lot of ways to kill people."
However, Larry Preston Williams, a New Orleans-based security consultant, says he thinks tighter security is inevitable. Even if employers improve human-resources practices, they can't always predict how an unhappy worker will respond to warnings about job performance, he said.
The cost of one miscalculation in a lawsuit can far exceed the expense of equipping buildings with metal detectors and alerting security personnel when a worker has been counseled about his performance, he says.
"It makes no sense for management not to understand that an employee's mind may move quicker toward drastic action than they think it might," Williams said.