Chief law officer asks House members to consider panic buttons

House Sergeant at Arms Bill Livingood wants all members to consider installing a panic button in their district offices to alert local police of potentially dangerous situations.

Some members have so-called panic buttons installed in their district and Capitol Hill offices, according to several House sources. Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) said his D.C. and some of his district offices already have buttons that allow staffers to discreetly summon police.

It’s unclear, however, whether all lawmakers have panic buttons installed in their Washington offices. The additional police presence and metal detectors on Capitol Hill could preclude the need for them, but Kingston said his office is equipped with one.

Livingood offered the panic-button suggestion in a memo titled “General Security Guidance for Members and Staff,” which was sent to all House offices Thursday. In addition to the panic buttons, in a section titled “Preparing for an Event,” Livingood suggested that a member always be accompanied by “sufficient staff” that situational awareness is not the responsibility of the member alone. He also suggested establishing alternate means of “ingress and egress,” as well as reliable means of transportation.

The memo also said staff members should always share any security concerns with the member, inspect the site of the event for “familiarization and orientation to include all emergency exits,” maintain the availability of “reliable communication devices” and local emergency numbers — “police, fire, medical.”

The memo followed a conference call held between 800 members, staff and spouses and Livingood and U.S. Capitol Police Chief Phillip Morse on Sunday. On that phone call, Livingood and Morse instructed members to select law enforcement liaisons in their offices charged with security-related issues and reporting any concerns to law enforcement.

The memo’s other suggestions to ensure district office security:

•  Requesting a security survey of district offices.
•  Programming a speed-dial function on phones for local law enforcement and medical numbers.
•  Updating all internal and external information at least annually.
•  Having at least two people in the district office at all times when it is open to the public, and notifying local law enforcement authorities if the office will be open to the public before or after normal hours of operation.

The memo also provided a website address for a U.S. Capitol Police Security Awareness Manual and a link to a Department of Homeland Security document that provides recommendations for responding to “active shooters.”

“The recent tragedy in Arizona has reminded everyone in the congressional community of the need to remain alert and vigilant at all times,” Livingood wrote at the beginning of the memo.

“Security awareness and proper planning must be an integral part of every member’s office routine. This is a team effort, as we rely on you to assist us — no one knows your district and the people in it better than you. The office of the sergeant at arms, working with the U.S. Capitol Police, stands ready to assist in any way we can.”