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Group Represents NIH Community
New Advisory Board Considers Security Concerns

By Carla Garnett

On the Front Page...

By the time NIH director Dr. Elias Zerhouni had announced at a June 18 Town Meeting the creation of a new NIH advisory group to consider security concerns, the impact of the NIH Community Advisory Board for Security (CABS) was already being felt — and widely appreciated — every morning by thousands of employees who work on the Bethesda campus.

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During the last security alert level escalation (raised May 20, lowered May 30) to Code Orange, for example, workers were greeted with a welcome change: screening at buildings was streamlined as employees no longer passed through magnetometers or had their bags x-rayed. Display of your official NIH ID gained you access to your place of business with nary a delay. The adjustment reflected the counsel and opinions of CABS: Employees would be treated differently than visitors even at higher alert levels.

Though simple, that kind of change was critical, recalled Dr. Robert Desimone, NIMH scientific director and CABS chair. It was also central to what the board undertook as its first task. In order to fulfill its mission to represent the NIH community in security matters and provide Zerhouni with advice, CABS needed to understand the principles and goals of the NIH security program.

Dr. Robert Desimone, NIMH scientific director and CABS chair

First on the short list of tenets was that NIH would adhere to all of the post-9/11 security regulations for federal installations. As CABS members quickly discovered, there were quite a few rules. "In our first few months we were getting a lot of regulations from a lot of different sources — Department of Homeland Security, HHS, Justice," noted Desimone. "Some of the material was not real specific, just general guidelines. Most of the regulations left a lot of room for interpretation and areas where we could customize them for NIH. That was important."

Desimone credited the campus's security personnel as well for making necessary adjustments as soon as possible. "A lot of the improvements to processes they quickly figured out on their own. NIH is a unique campus. We're almost like a city, a federal city, with all of its complexities. We have to apply judgment."

High on the list of the security program's considerations was protecting the campus from "weaponized vehicles," Desimone said. Although no one wanted to give up the freedom to come and go on campus at whim, no one wanted to leave the campus vulnerable either. CABS members were briefed on reasons NIH needed to be further secured than in past ages. Erection of a fence came to be more of a federal requirement, so CABS encouraged development of thoughtful policies "for life at NIH in a post-fence environment."

NIH has also received a little-known bonus from its increased security, Desimone pointed out. "One of the nice offshoots of this has been that there has been a drop-off in crime on campus," he said. There have been fewer thefts — about a 50 percent decrease in each year — since the new security measures were put in place.

According to the NIH Police Branch, there were 696 larceny/thefts reported on campus in 2000. In 2001, larceny/thefts reported were down to 364; in 2002, they were down to 178; and from January to July 2003, just 76 had been reported.

"The decrease in crimes is due to increased security as a result of 9/11, successful investigation and prosecution of reported crimes resulting in fewer repeat offenders, and the education of the campus population on how to secure property and prevent crimes," noted Lt. Tom Jensen of the NIH Police's investigative section.

Improved communication is another high priority for CABS. Employees may have noticed recent emails detailing the emergency evacuation process and the shelter-in-place guidelines. Board members strongly supported the timely distribution of such messages to the entire NIH community, citing the benefits of an informed and prepared workforce.

Most recently, input from CABS has been instrumental in refining the web site at http://security.nih.gov/, which in addition to addressing such issues as cyber security and mail-handling, now offers more current security updates, describes in detail how NIH will operate under each of the five alert colors, and fleshes out the agency's other emergency plans. Now, an NIH-community radio station (1610 AM) is able to give up-to-the-minute news about traffic and parking, which will be helpful at all times, not just in emergencies.

But Desimone doesn't want the communication to be only one way. He encourages NIH'ers to contact him or any CABS member with ideas, suggestions and comments on improving and coping with NIH security. "I'm most pleased that the new web site will make it very easy for people to send comments," he said.

CABS is composed of 14 people including IC directors, deputy directors, scientific directors, executive officers and other senior NIH staff, plus the chief and deputy chief security officers for NIH. Members — all of whom were appointed by Zerhouni — include chair Desimone, Linda Adams (NHGRI), Dr. Duane Alexander (NICHD), Dr. Carl Barrett (NCI), Dr. Thomas Gallagher (OD), Maureen Gormley (CC), Dr. Michael Gottesman (OD), Alan Graeff (CIT), Dr. Richard Hodes (NIA), Robert Hosenfeld (OD), Dr. John La Montagne (NIAID), Chick Leasure (OD), Dr. Eugene Major (NINDS), Dr. Norka Ruiz-Bravo (NIGMS), Stephen Ficca, NIH chief security officer and Arturo Giron, deputy chief security officer.

Asked why he was appointed to chair the board, Desimone joked, "Probably because I was one of the most vocal complainers."

Currently CABS, which has curbed its meeting schedule from once a week to twice a month, is tackling several concerns that have cropped up recently. The board has strongly endorsed a Clinical Center suggestion for establishment of a dedicated entrance to campus for patients. In addition, the board is still analyzing just how "life after fence" will be for a community accustomed to a great amount of freedom and open space.

"I certainly have a much greater appreciation for security now," Desimone concluded. "Everything is a compromise in some way. We have to find ways that allow us to continue to operate in an efficient manner, to perform the NIH mission and still stay safe."


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