VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — It’s been nearly two and a half years since Virginia Beach’s deadly mass shooting, and many of the recommendations the city received to prevent another tragedy are just now coming together.
On Tuesday, the city’s emergency management department introduced their latest hire to Virginia Beach City Council members: a security program manager.
The position, approved in the most recent budget cycle, will help implement recommendations from the $483,000 Hillard Heintze report, which previously found that there is no centralized security plan for the city’s plethora of buildings. Currently, each department head is charged with coming up with its own plan and funding security improvements.
The city Human Resources Director Regina Hilliard also announced that the phased restructuring of her department, which the report said was needed to provide for consistency, is also underway.
Both existing building security and the city’s human resource department came under scrutiny following the mass shooting on May 31, 2019.
It was on that day a public utilities engineer brought several firearms into Building 2 at the city’s Municipal Center and shot and killed 12 people and seriously hurt four others before being killed himself in a gun battle with police.
While investigators have concluded the city would have had no way of knowing the engineer’s intention to carry out the attack, employees have communicated many didn’t have faith HR would do anything if clear warning signs were exhibited.
At the time of the shooting, the city’s HR structure had HR liaisons in place in certain departments that ultimately reported to the manager of that department. HR wasn’t often their sole responsibility, either.
Former acting City Manager Tom Leahy said it resulted in “inconsistent HR policies where one department would interpret an HR policy one way and another department would interpret it somewhat different.”
Six new positions were added to the HR department this year, and as a result, Hilliard said the majority of the city’s workforce is now under a new structure.
The city’s central HR department will now be personally involved in all cases of employee discipline and cases of workplace violence.
“Hillard Heintze had recommended that we have a threat assessment team and that threat assessment team would provide collaboration among many team members, whenever we are made aware of any workplace violence incident,” Hillard told City Council.
The team will be made up of members of HR, department managers, members from occupational health and safety, a member of the police department and the city’s new security program manager, Mike Freeman.
Freeman, who has lived in the city for more than 25 years, responded to Building 2 following the shooting as an FBI special agent bomb technician.
For the last two months, he has started working on a plan to prioritize assets and personnel to be protected in the city. A project he already has more than $5.5 million to do.
“This is a pretty big job,” Freeman told council members. “What we want to do is flood an area that is having a problem, and cause a de-escalation.”
He said he hopes to hold training sessions with employees who are interested in active shooter training and prevention workshops. Freeman also encourages the city to start practicing evacuations in case of another emergency with a mobile reporting system that allows people to know who is safe.
Members from the city manager’s office also told City Council that the work of the VB Strong Center continues in an effort to transition city employees affected by the shooting back into the workforce while still taking into account their personal trauma.
“This is not going to be a quick fix. This is going to go on for a long time,” said Mayor Bobby Dyer. “Everybody heals at a different rate.”