Proper firearms safety controls were not in place when a gun accidentally went off last August during a classroom training exercise run by an Energy Department contractor, according to new findings by safety inspectors.
Near the end of a weeklong training course in Washington state for international border security officers, students were provided an opportunity to handle a handgun, the report said. But the course instructor, an off-duty deputy sheriff operating as a subcontractor to Batelle Memorial Institute, never verified that the weapon he distributed to students was unloaded, investigators said.
No one was hurt when a student accidentally discharged the.45 caliber pistol following a concealed weapons demonstration, but Energy's Office of Health, Safety and Security said the mistake "could have resulted in fatal injury to one of the many students in the classroom."
Battelle has managed the Pacific Northwest Laboratory for the Energy Department under contract since 1965. Since 1997, the contractor has used an on-site training center to simulate hazardous and dangerous environments. The center is run by Mission Support Alliance LLC, a private sector group comprised of Lockheed Martin Integrated Technology; Jacobs Engineering Group and Wackenhut Services.
Geoff Harvey, spokesperson for Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, said there was never any intent of using a loaded firearm for the demonstration.
"However, on the day of the incident, the trainer did not follow his normal class preparation routine and firearms used in the demonstration were not properly checked," Harvey said. "This was caused by the instructor moving to a new house earlier in the week of the event, and his firearms, magazines and weapons were handled by others during the move. The instructor had not had enough time to thoroughly unpack his firearms and other weapons, and reorganize them into his usual training preparation configuration."
The weapons training portion of the course has been conducted more than 200 times since 1997, without any other incidents. The concealed weapon demonstration, however, has now been dropped from the curriculum and the instructor is no longer used on the contract, he said. The report concluded that Battelle had not established adequate oversight of its training programs.
For example, Battelle did not implement firearms safety policies and protocols for instructors or students who handle weapons in classrooms. The company also did not identify firearms activities in its intercontractor procurement arrangement with Mission Support Alliance, investigators said.
"Battelle inappropriately categorized the hazards associated with the training as routine and low risk," the report said.
The company told Energy officials it is reviewing the use of all training props for unidentified risks and hazards and is providing enhanced firearms training to course instructors. The report suggested Battelle also determine whether an independent entity should verify that firearms controls are in place.
Battelle earned more than $3.5 billion in federal contracts in fiscal 2008, according to a Government Executive analysis.