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Perimeter Fence To Have Adaptable Features, Project Starts in Fall

By Rich McManus

On the Front Page...

Anyone who has ever wondered what it's like to work at the White House will soon realize at least a portion of that dream: NIH is due to get an ornamental metal fence of the kind that surrounds the executive mansion, complete with surveillance cameras and other monitoring features that will enhance security on campus.


The fence, a protection measure that was actually recommended for NIH by the Office of the HHS Inspector General a month before the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks, is currently in the design phase, with construction due to begin in the fall and completion expected next spring, said Stella Serras-Fiotes, director of the Office of Facilities Planning, Office of Research Services.

The barrier, once considered hurtful to the collegial nature of the campus, is but one part of a larger security scheme that will eventually include a new Visitor Center to welcome and screen guests, and a delivery inspection center to monitor vendor and truck traffic at NIH. All three elements were proposed by the IG office, and became critical for NIH when HHS directed, on Jan. 30, 2002, that all department facilities hew to security requirements (based on a "Vulnerability Assessment of Federal Facilities") developed by the Department of Justice in June 1995, and to National Security Alert Guidelines issued by the General Services Administration.

An artist's drawing of the fence shows portion featuring 3-foot-high stone wall vehicular barrier.

Though constructed of black metal pickets almost 9 feet tall, and buttressed near roadways by boulders and stone walls designed to thwart vehicles, the perimeter fence will be flexible enough to respond to a range of threat conditions set by the Office of Homeland Security. According to guidelines developed by ORS's Division of Public Safety, at the lowest, or "green" level of security, the gates could be open and unstaffed, said Serras-Fiotes. At the "red" or highest level, the gates might be locked to everyone, with entry permitted only through specific, staffed gates. As the Record went to press, security was at level 3 (code yellow), meaning that NIH'ers would use their ID badges as cardkeys to enter the various gates in the metal fence, but visitors would be channeled only through specific entrances. The gates can function either electronically, or with staffing, or both, Serras-Fiotes noted, and designers are including features to foil the practice of anyone dashing in at the same time as NIH'ers, a behavior known as "tailgating."

While obviously a physical barrier, the fence also buys time for police in the event of an aggressive intrusion from without. It is the outermost ring in a series of concentric layers of protection that includes restricted entry at some buildings, and then areas within buildings that may be off-limits, Serras-Fiotes explained.

As it snakes its way for almost 2 miles around the perimeter of campus, resulting in the demise of only a handful of trees, the fence adapts to some specific needs. It has been routed to avoid four "archaeo-logically sensitive areas" (one on each of the campus' four sides) and attempts to honor the perimeter buffer zone from surrounding neighborhoods, and maintain a 100-foot "pedestrian standoff" from NIH buildings (the distance at which a bomb-wielding walker could do minimal damage) and a 250-foot "vehicular standoff," representing a distance at which the explosives packed in a car or truck could do the least damage to structures. Other special features include 3-foot-tall stone-wall vehicular barriers near driveway entrances; a special "residential fence" around the on-campus homes ("the Quarters") that will both enable residents to come and go more freely than employees, and be capable of turning the enclave into a gated community in the event of a threat; and routing to avoid protected "view sheds" — those vistas offered from historic properties such as Bldg. 1 and the Stone House.

The perimeter fence will itself be encircled by a bikepath/sidewalk to connect with the county's system and to accommodate neighbors who are accustomed to traversing the campus to reach Metro. And in a boon for dog-walkers and neighbors, the chain-link fence that has for decades defined the south boundary of campus will remain with its current openings; the new perimeter fence will be set back from the chain-link one, leaving a greensward for common use.

A boulder barrier will also buttress the fence in places.

Though he was not here when planning for the fence began last October, NIH director Dr. Elias Zerhouni endorses the decision to proceed with its construction. In a letter to Rep. Connie Morella (R-Md.) dated June 14, he said, "I am committed to protecting our employees, patients, visitors and neighbors; securing our facilities; and safeguarding the reputation and mission of the NIH." The letter further notes that NIH has been evaluating its security needs since 1995; that "significant shortcomings in NIH's security profile" have been identified; and that nationally recognized experts in security planning and design have offered their counsel to NIH in this process.

Planning for the fence has also involved the surrounding neighborhoods, via the NIH Community Liaison Council, the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission and the National Capital Planning Commission, which gets the plan in August and might have input on aspects of design or siting. "NCPC's role is advisory for federal facilities outside the District of Columbia," said Serras-Fiotes. NCPC will submit the plan to the Montgomery County Planning Board, which will likely discuss it at an open hearing in September. The board will report back to NCPC later in the fall, and NCPC will issue its nonbinding recommendations.

Once the fence is built, plans will proceed for a new freestanding Visitor Center (the current Visitor Information Center recently migrated from the basement of the Clinical Center to a site on the first floor of the Natcher Bldg.) near the Medical Center Metro station, and a delivery inspection center at the northeast side of the campus. The two must be kept separate for optimum traffic flow and security, Serras-Fiotes emphasized.

Visitor Center construction will require recon-figuration of the current Metro drop-off and bus depot, to allow better access and circulation. Traffic studies of current and anticipated conditions have concluded that no changes need be made to the roadways surrounding NIH.

Eventually, some of the vehicle inspection "tents" on campus will come down, but there will probably be a continued need for them outside underground parking garages, noted Serras-Fiotes.

"[Security planning is] a really challenging job," she said, "because the campus was not originally designed to be a secure place. Retrofitting [for security needs] is tough to apply uniformly and appropriately, particularly after we've had more than 60 years of being essentially an open campus."

Lou Green is in charge of the perimeter fence project and Nancy Boyd is in charge of the Visitor Center construction project; both work in the Design, Construction and Alteration Branch, Division of Engineering Services, ORS.

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