"Tragedies change what we do."
That's what Eldon Vail, head of the Washington Department of Corrections, told the Tri-City Herald editorial board last week.
He was referring to last month's murder of Correctional Officer Jayme Biendl in the Monroe state reformatory.
It's sad but true, as long as something is working, people aren't motivated to make improvements.
Some of the changes in our prison system will be as simple as renewed diligence to follow safety precautions already in the play book.
Other changes might involve some simple additions to existing procedures, such as counting staff whenever circumstances require a recount of the prisoners.
And some measures could include the use of body alarms or other new technologies.
Body alarms work in a couple of different ways. The state is looking into what types might best serve the guards' needs.
Some are triggered by slapping your chest, assuming you can get a hand free to slap your chest.
Others are activated anytime the wearer is not in an upright position, as would occur during a struggle.
Perhaps one of these measures would have saved Biendl's life.
As with all technology, though, body alarms are not infallible.
For example, Vail pointed out that cameras are heavily used in prison systems, but they are more useful in determining what happened after the fact than they are in preventing or stopping an attack.
There certainly will be a cost associated with any new equipment. At a time when budgets are tight, it might be hard to justify the expense. But it is more difficult to put a dollar value on someone's life.
It's been almost 32 years since the last time our prison system had to deal with the death of guard. Many, many occupations can't rival that record.
There are more employee deaths in the Department of Transportation than there are in the Department of Corrections.
Vail attributes his department's long safety run to a lot of people working very hard.
Prisons, by their nature, are dangerous places to work, mainly because of the unpredictability of prisoners. The best protection for anyone in a dangerous situation is to remain alert.
Complacency is the enemy of us all -- whether it's when we're driving the car, tending to personal relationships or dealing with a customer. Technology will never replace vigilance.
Biendl's death is regrettable and saddening. For the sake of her colleagues still working in our state prisons, it's crucial to determine how it might have been prevented.
Three teams are investigating the murder. One is being led by local police. One is headed up by the state Department of Labor and Industries. A third, independent review is being conducted by the National Institute of Corrections.
Their reports will help shape the changes that will come from this tragedy.
State prison guards have a good record for safety. Biendl's murder proves it's not yet good enough.