Discovery beefs up security and comforts staff
Employees back to business after hostage standoff
Everything appeared to be business as usual at Discovery Communications on Tuesday as employees returned to work in the wake of the hostage crisis that garnered international attention.
Isidro Cabrera, owner of Augie's Doggies hot dog stand, set up his cart at his usual spot on the patio in front of the lobby where Wheaton resident James J. Lee took three hostages Sept. 1.
Cabrera stood in the very same spot the day two frightened women came out of the Discovery lobby, telling him that a man waving a gun had entered the building, he said.
"I saw the guy and two people on the floor," Cabrera said, after running to peer through the lobby's wall of windows.
The hot dog vendor ran from his post to the windows on three separate occasions, warning his regular customers and passersby of the danger, he said.
Cabrera said the situation happened quickly, noting that the traffic light on Georgia Avenue changed only once before police arrived on the scene.
"I don't have a lot of memories," he said as he pondered why he stayed to warn others of the danger rather than run from it himself. "A lot of people from the building are my customers. If my friend is in there, I can do something. You and me, we are the same. I don't have an exception."
Cabrera, who has sold hot dogs from the same spot for three years and named his business after close friend and father figure Augestine Cabrera, was one of the many people Discovery thanked in an e-mail sent to employees Monday.
The e-mail briefed employees on the beefed-up security presence and variety of available counseling services in response to last week's hostage crisis, in which Lee entered the Discovery headquarters at about 1 p.m. Sept. 1 waving a handgun and wearing metallic canisters strapped to his body. Lee, who had been arrested during a protest in front of the building in 2008, complained on his website about the messages and programming choices of Discovery, which he said overly promoted capitalism and procreation.
Police shot and killed Lee around 4:48 p.m. after he made a move toward fleeing hostages, police said. By 10 a.m. Thursday, many employees were back at work, where they were greeted by the company's CEO and its chairman at the door, according to Discovery Communications spokesman David Leavy. Other employees took use of a "liberal leave,'' which allowed them to stay out of work until Tuesday.
The company hopes to strike a balance between moving past the "scary and surreal experience" of the hostage incident and coping with the aftermath of the events, according to an e-mail obtained by The Gazette.
Additional corporate security officers and local law enforcement officials added a layer of safety Tuesday, along with a strict employee check-in process, the e-mail said. Employees now must perform individual badge swipes to gain entry to the building and external guests must be greeted in the employee lobby by internal personnel carrying badges. Discovery will enforce identification procedures, the e-mail said.
"We want to be smart in creating the safest work environment possible, but without letting the crisis impact our sense of community," the e-mail said.
Under the new security rules, employees can use the Discovery Sensory Garden during the day, but the gates will remain closed for entry and exit indefinitely, according to the e-mail.
The company also created a new Security Review Task Force to examine all aspects of last week's crisis to determine what additional security measures the company should adopt, the e-mail said. The team will consult with the FBI and hire a highly accredited third-party security consultant to analyze evacuation plans and make recommendations, the e-mail said.
Discovery will not disclose additional security measures as a safeguard.
In addition to ramping up safety and security procedures, Discovery will focus on the emotional well-being of its employees. Members of the FBI's Office of Victim Assistance leadership team will conduct a number of educational sessions at One Discovery Place, which began Tuesday and will run all week, the e-mail said.
Additionally, the company established a confidential Discovery Support Line, staffed by trained experts and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Employees can also visit on-site counselors. Discovery contracted with Empathia Inc., an organization with experience in dealing with traumatic events and emotional reactions, to offer long-term support to employees, the e-mail said.
"The emotional well being of you and your family remain paramount," the e-mail said.
The e-mail noted that all three of the hostages are doing well, given the circumstances, and are being provided with all of the resources and support they need.
The lobby of One Discovery Place, where the hostage crisis unfolded, will remain closed for two weeks until the company can restore it to full functionality.
A new Lobby Redesign Task Force will choose a design that "takes into account added security enhancements while maintaining the character, creativity and distinctiveness of a great media company like Discovery Communications," the e-mail said.
As an immediate thank you to the Silver Spring community, Discovery will make a "sizeable donation" to Heroes Inc., an organization dedicated to aid families of officers and firefighters who have died in the line of duty in Washington, D.C.