Skip to Main Content
Project on Government Oversight

Statement of John Middlemiss and James Howard, former security guards at Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant

Related Content: Nuclear Power, Nuclear Security
Printer Friendly
March 29, 2002

 

Statement of John Middlemiss

To whom it may concern,

I am writing this letter to focus your attention on serious problems with the security in the nuclear industry. I have no political agenda and take no position in the debate over nuclear power. My only concern is for the safety and protection of Seabrook nuclear power plant and power plants throughout the country.

On November 13, 2001, I was hired by Burns International Staffing Services, a security company subcontracted by North Atlantic Power Company (owner of Seabrook nuclear power station). I was hired as an armed security officer to work at the Seabrook station. During the interview for this position, I was told that as a security officer I would become part of a tactically proficient, well-trained security team. This seemed to me liked a great opportunity to excel in the security field and receive training that could be applied to other careers. I was also informed that since the security force was on heightened alert it was working a lot of overtime (12 hour shifts, 5 to 6 days a week) and that we (me and 14 others) were hired to alleviate that. When we were done training everyone would be going back to 8 hour shifts with some overtime between 40-48 hours a week.

The first two days of training was just a basic introduction to the plant. On day three it became clear that the training department was not prepared for a class of this size and things became disorganized. It stayed that way throughout the training process. In the weeks to come, the class would progress through RAD worker training and an array of computer based training regarding safety with all the assorted hazards one might encounter in the work environment. Classroom courses included Communication, Incident Report, Barrier Inspection, Use of Force, Public Relations, Contraband Detection Equipment, Patrol Techniques, Entry Control Procedures, Personnel Search, Vehicle Access, Security Cordon, Alarm Assessment, Response to Bomb Threat, and Search for Missing Officer. Near the end of all these classes, we went out to the range for pistol training and qualifications.

For pistol training, we had three instructors and a class of 16. Over the course of two days I shot 96 rounds through my weapon before I was told that it was time for me to qualify. I informed the instructor that I did not feel comfortable with my weapon. I pleaded with the instructor to let me have more time with this firearm. He tried to comfort me telling me not to worry – that I would qualify. I explained to him that I was not worried about qualifying; I was worried with the fact that this was a strange weapon to me and I was not used to it yet and that my life and the life of other officers, not to mention the public’s safety, depends on it. Firing 96 rounds does not make an individual proficient with this weapon. He agreed with me and said he wished he had more time to give me but I had to qualify now, there was no more time. I had one more day of range training for the shotgun.

In the final week, we began tactical training – the most important part of training. We were allotted four days to go over tactical mind set, survival response, tactical communication, basic individual tactics, response force deployment tactics, team tactics, close quarters techniques, tactical weapons techniques, and an introduction to tactical team movement. Here we were going to learn the skills that would prepare us for an attack on the facility. There was one trainer assigned for this task. Three security officers who had previously missed this part of the training were added to the class. By chance, two of them had prior military background but no trainer certification. These two officers were asked to assist in the training even though they themselves had not gone though the plant’s tactical class. I feel that this resulted in a lot of inconsistencies in the training. We had three individuals teaching three different points of view on tactics that they learned in three different fields.

On the last day of tactics training we were to demonstrate our ability to implement what we were taught. The class was split into two teams, many of my teammates failed repeatedly trying to demonstrate the things we had learned. The other team was completely neutralized in the first two minutes of their exercise, which was the only opportunity they had to demonstrate what they learned. Both teams suffered multiple mistakes basically because of our inability to apply what we had learned. This was brought to the attention of the instructor and the response was, it was ok, they were just trying to give us the basics. That was the end of tactical training.

I would encourage you to ask any law enforcement, SWAT team, or military Special Forces if they feel that this level of training over four days would make them proficient enough with their weapons and techniques to engage multiple well-trained, dedicated, armed adversaries (as outlined by the NRC in its DBT). I would venture to guess that those organizations would agree that this training would be insufficient.

The next phase of training was on-the-job training (OJT). Basically OJT is for the students to physically do what they were taught in the classroom, demonstrating the ability to do the job. The majority of OJT was spent learning all the door numbers and locations. This took about two weeks to complete. Now mind you that at this point, the class had gone through weeks of classroom training, three days of fire arms training, and four days of tactical training, but had yet to actually see the inside of the plant or even had the plant’s tactical plan explained to them. Two days before we were to be put on shift, the tactical trainer explained the tactical plan for the plant. We spent one day going over the plan on a tabletop blueprint of the plant and the other day we walked around to see all the response points that we would be required to get to in the event of a contingency. To spend eight hours playing tabletop games and about four hours walking around looking at the response points does not give an individual enough time to fully understand and grasp his or her responsibilities. Once again this was brought to the instructor’s attention. He said that when we got to shift we would do drills based on the DBT so we would fully understand the tactical plan. So basically they were setting the whole new class of 15 individuals on security post knowing that we didn’t have the ability to protect the facility, with the hope that the plant wouldn’t be attacked before they could run enough drills to teach us the tactical plan. One of the problems with this (this is just one of many) is that the shift you’re on will effect the number of drills you will be involved in. Day shift can only drill on weekends and night shift on Wednesday and Thursday. Night shift has more drill time because there are less people in the plant, but day shift hardly ever sees any drills.

Now in the final phase of OJT, they required us to sign off on all our training. When you sign off you’re saying you know how to do all the tasks that will be required of you in the field. But how can you sign off saying you know how to do something in the field when you have never been in the field to do it? But they won’t let you in the field to learn it until you sign off on it. This whole process seems to be designed to take all liability from the company and put it on the security officers. This is the first of many hard decisions I had to make. It did not sit well with me that I had to sign off on training that I felt was far below adequate. I could either sign off or resign. I did not want to resign, so I signed off and hoped nothing went wrong on shift.

My first night on shift was uneventful. I met some of the other officers but mostly I just felt my way around, getting my feet wet so to speak. Night two was when we started the drills; this would be the first set of drills at the plant in more than six months. This was my first chance to see how the tactical plan was going to work, for me to implement everything I had been taught. For these drills, you are given a whistle and you use your flashlight. The whistle represents the gunshot and the flashlight the bullet. They told us what time the drill would start so we would be ready. We had three drills that night though the first two I only heard over the radio because the drill was in a different part of the plant. They killed multiple officers and blew up a number of vital components, and in at least one of the drills, they got a complete target set which would have resulted in a melt down.

On the third drill they came at my post. I was posted in the radiological controlled area (RCA). They came in through a door that only requires a crowbar to open it. There were only two attackers and they were upon us in under a minute and easily killed me and another officer with grenades. The room we were guarding was one of the two ways into the reactor itself. Once we were dead they had a clear path into the reactor – the plant would’ve melted down again. And while doing all this, the adversaries did not lose a single guy. This was an eye opener for me; I was highly alarmed by the results of the drills. The next night we had three more drills. I was posted outside with two other officers who had worked there for more than a year. The first drill started on the other side of the plant and finished in my area. The adversaries in this drill had hit all the target sets they needed and still had one person alive so once again the plant was melted down. The next two drills had about the same results – all three of us died outside and they melted down the plant.

So over the last two nights we had six drills and the drill team had succeeded in having some sort of radiological release in nearly every drill. I was very concerned with this and started talking to all my superiors about the obvious problem. The response that I got from them was that this was the reason behind all the drills, to make the officers better at their tactics. I pointed out that we just lost six drills over two nights which included officers that had been there for years. I thought that we were suppose to be a team working together but that was not team work out there; that was chaos. There were officers that did not get to their response points. We had officers that did not even know where their response points were and, if that was not bad enough, we had officers shooting other officers by mistake. If we were to be attacked right now we would fail – the whole shift had just demonstrated that. That’s why we need to do more drills, was the only response I received.

These six drills were the only drills I had at Seabrook nuclear station. Over the next few weeks I talked to officers, superiors, anyone who would listen, about the problems of the plant. Talking with all these people, I started to see something more alarming then everything else – over the whole guard force there was an attitude of complacency. Everyone saw the problems, some had tried to solve them, but basically no one knew what to do. Some of the officers believe that most of the posts are basically suicide because every time they have a drill, they are killed in those posts. These same officers said that if the plant is attacked they are going to use their weapons to get off the plant. Then there are some who would stay and fight but who feel that training is inadequate and don’t quite understand what they are suppose to do in the event of an attack, and other individuals who just feel that the plant will never be attacked.

I had talked to everyone that I could. I went through the chain of command in management and got no results. They either can’t or won’t change anything. Once again I faced a hard choice: Do I stay and try to change things from within, or do I resign? Resigning would not solve the problems and wouldn’t help me sleep any better at night. This job was supposed to be a career for me; I was going to be a highly trained, highly paid individual. I wanted to take the experience I would receive and apply it to something better further down the road. On top of that, this plant is in my backyard so what happens here is going to effect me whether I work there or not. So by working there, I thought I could help control what happened to my family, friends, and home. Every night that I went to work I looked at the officers on post with me to determine what I would do in the event of an attack. Some nights I felt very confident about our chances of stopping it. Other nights, I too would use my weapons to get off the plant. And sometimes I just plain feared for my life, praying that we wouldn’t be attacked. Many nights went by like this when I realized that I too had developed that same level of complacency that I had found so alarming weeks before. I was saying the same things those officers were saying – I too was willing to run if there was an attack. With that attitude, I was no longer helping; I had become part of the problem. This realization ultimately forced me to resign.

As I mentioned before, Seabrook power plant is in my backyard. Regardless of whether I work there, I am affected by its presence like thousands of Americans throughout the country who live near power plants. Since my resignation, I have decided to publicize my story in the hope that it will inspire reform to the system. I am anxious to work with any policy maker or journalist who shares my concern for the safety of the American public.

Sincerely,

John Middlemiss


Statement of James Howard

March 29, 2002

To Whom It May Concern,

I am writing this letter to inform you and the public of a serious problem in our country today regarding the security at nuclear power plants.

On November 13, 2001, I joined a class of 15 employees under contract with Burns Security to commence training and gain a position as a armed security guard at Seabrook Nuclear Power Station in Seabrook, NH. When I went for my interview for employment I was led to believe by gaining employment in this position, I would become part of a well-trained, tacitly proficient Tactical Response Team. This seemed like a great opportunity to excel in an up-and-coming field given the current events.

I was told that given the current state of heightened alert of the nation the guards at Seabrook Station had been working a lot of overtime. We were being hired to help with that situation.

We started classes on a hectic schedule where it seemed to me and the majority of the class that it was sort of a fly by the seat of your pants operation. When asked about it, the training staff apologized and stated they were not prepared for a class of this size and to please bear with them through the duration. We progressed through a variety of training including classroom courses covering several topics and weapons qualification. Needless to say, the two days they had allotted for weapons qualification was not nearly enough time and was extended for individuals who could not qualify in that amount of time. I qualified on the second day of range training and that was the extent of my firearms training on the pistol. We were given one more day for shot guns and that was it.

I made it known to the trainers that I was not comfortable with the gun and did not believe that I was proficient enough with the gun to be able to engage multiple adversaries on the move with much success. This is doubly concerning because though I was uncomfortable with the weapon, I still achieved the highest qualification score in the class. The response of the training staff was that they would like to give us more training but couldn’t because of time constraints. I was informed that we would not be firing our service weapons again until the annual qualifications. When I asked how I was to remain proficient with the firearm, I was told that I could go out on my own time and dime to do so if I felt the need. It is my opinion that individuals expected to defend a nuclear power plant should be required to be proficient with their weapons, and it is the responsibility of the security company, not the guards, to make sure that is the case. To do otherwise is irresponsible and certainly not in the best interest of the general public.

Then finally in the last weeks of our six week training regiment we started tactical training. The first thing our trainer said to us regarding tactical training was that he wished that he could spend six weeks with us but that the company would only allot four days towards that application. To me, this was the most important part of the training we could receive. In these four days, the fifteen of us were to learn the tactics necessary to defend the plant and our lives in the event of an attack. There was one trainer for this task and he asked two of the plant guards with previous military background, but no trainer certification, to help in the instruction. Those guards, at the time, had worked at the plant for less than six months and had not gone through the plant’s tactical class themselves. We received some basic training and were divided into two groups to demonstrate that we had mastered those basics. The team of eight that I was on had one attempt to demonstrate what we had learned. In that attempt, our team was neutralized entirely in the first two minutes of the exercise due to a lack of cohesion and because many of the basics we had been taught were not applied. This showed me that our team was not proficient with tactics and did not retain the instruction.

I brought my opinion up to the instructor and was told that it was alright because he was just trying to give us the bare essentials and that when we got on shift we would do more realistic tactical training. It seems to me that it is crucial that the active guards protecting the power plant be fully trained before they get there. In one month we had drills only one day, which I did not take part in. The additional training I was promised was nowhere in sight.

As time progressed, I became more and more aware of an unprecedented level of disatisfaction among the guard force. As I talked to more guards and became acquainted with them, I began to realize their disatisfaction was well founded: they had been working 60-72 hours a week for a long period of time, they had their Christmas bonuses taken from them, they were using what some of them called antiquated weapons, and they had received no recognition for their efforts.

As the same time, North Atlantic bought a number of new weapons though they couldn’t be used because there was no time to train the guards who were already working so much overtime. When I asked the security manager of North Atlantic when we would have time to qualify with the new guns he told me not until after the shutdown, probably around June. I asked what he was doing to alleviate the overtime problem and was told that the chief was hiring more guards. But the chief told me he was hiring only two more guards to replace two guards who had left the plant. When I pointed out that this would not help the overtime problem, he seemed unconcerned. He went on to tell me that the security department had several other priorities that needed to be addressed first.

After showing my dissatisfaction, I was told that the job isn’t for everyone and what I did was up to me. I told them that if I did not get some assurance that they would try and resolve some of the problems (disgruntled armed guards, unsecured and ineffective barriers, and inadequate training, to name a few) that I was going to resign for fear of my own safety. I was told by the security manager that he would pass it along to his superiors because he himself did not have the authority to do anything about it. I asked him if he saw any resolutions happening in the near future. The response was these things take time. I told him that my position was that given current events and the almost weekly advisories from the intelligence community regarding threats to nuclear power plants, it is our responsibility to do what we can to enhance security beyond what is required in the interest of the safety and security of the American people. I got the feeling that I was getting nowhere in the conversation and felt that the security manager was not really concerned about the issues that I had brought to his attention. For the most part, he shifted blame for his lack of action to those around him. It was at that point I decided to terminate my employment for said reasons.

Now I am currently unemployed and collaborating with another ex-Seabrook armed guard to try to make people and government aware of the extent of the problem at hand. The government should impose more stringent oversight of the NRC and push them to upgrade their security requirements and military strategists should independently evaluate plant security. Furthermore, I believe the National Guard should temporary be brought on site to support the current guard force until the NRC and individual plants can improve security. Essentially what it boils down to is that nothing will change without more stringent requirements and oversight. We need to be proactive in these times where our enemies have brought war to our soil. We can’t afford to wait and see. Every American citizen has an obligation to stand up to the challenge and make this country safe or as safe as we can regardless of the financial cost.

Sincerely,

James Howard

Related Work