Ohio NASA lockdown spurred by test system glitch

admin Contributor
Font Size:

CLEVELAND (AP) — A NASA research center was locked down and employees hunkered down in their offices for about an hour Friday because a misdirected phone call during a security test led them to believe there was a gunman on campus.

“There is not — nor has there been — a gunman or shooter here at NASA Glenn Research Center,” Center Director Ramon Lugo III said Friday following the scare. “All the employees are safe.”

A Glenn employee received an automated phone call at about 9:30 a.m. warning that a shooter was inside the building, Lugo said. That employee has the same last name as a NASA worker at Kennedy Space Center, which was conducting a test of NASA’s new automated emergency-response system.

The employee told a supervisor, and the information went up the chain of command at Glenn, where officials were unaware of the other center’s test and ordered a lockdown. It was called off about an hour later — after authorities had searched two buildings for a gunman — when officials realized the error.

Loudspeakers announced “all clear” and “the emergency is over” shortly before 11 a.m.

NASA spokesman Bob Jacobs said “human error” led to the Glenn employee’s name inadvertently being loaded into the system when Kennedy was doing its test.

“This whole thing was a fiasco,” said Virginia Cantwell, president of a union local representing more than 1,000 NASA Glenn employees. “People are very upset about this.”

Cantwell said the false alarm was costly and left employees thinking there was a gunman stalking the grounds.

“I want to apologize to everybody for the inconvenience and the stress that resulted from the situation,” Lugo said.

The emergency operations center at NASA headquarters is reviewing testing procedures and will determine how such an error can be avoided and what additional steps can be taken to give employees advance warning, Jacobs said.

He said employees at Kennedy had been given a head’s up that the testing was taking place and that the phone message indicated it was a test.

“It was an honest mistake,” he said.

Lt. Don Michalosky of the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s office said the phone message led to a story being spread among employees that there was a gunman at the sprawling center.

Employees were told to lock themselves in their offices and stay inside as the entire NASA campus was placed under a complete lockdown, Lugo said.

“I’m not happy that we had this situation,” said Lugo, who acknowledged that the mistake was an embarrassment. “I’ve talked to some employees, and they were traumatized by the situation.”

Lugo said officials initially believed the suspected gunman was in one building, then found out he was possibly in another building.

Michael Bilinovich, head of security at Glenn, said NASA is in a testing phase of the agency-wide notification system and that Glenn plans to test it later this month.

“The employee that got the message here has told us that they did not hear ‘this is a test,'” Lugo said. “But we understand that at the other center, the employees were made aware that this was an exercise.”

Jacobs said officials at Glenn responded just as they should have.

“Glenn did exactly what it should have done if there had been a threat. It did all the correct things to protect its people,” he said. “Glenn’s emergency procedures worked exactly as planned.”

The emergency notification problem represented a second glitch Friday for NASA, which also delayed the space shuttle Discovery’s final voyage, possibly until the end of the month, because of a potentially dangerous hydrogen gas leak discovered during fueling.

The NASA Glenn complex, next to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, has more than 3,400 employees and contract workers and developed some key components of a rocket for NASA’s now-canceled $100 billion return-to-the moon program. The center has weathered several years of staff cuts and is facing uncertainty over potential cuts in space programs.

The center is named after Ohio resident John Glenn, who in 1962 piloted the United States’ first manned orbital mission.

Visitors are required to sign in, get a pass and be escorted on the grounds. Security was beefed up after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.


Associated Press writers Thomas J. Sheeran in Cleveland, John Seewer in Toledo and JoAnne Viviano in Columbus contributed to this report.