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|3-Element Perimeter Security|
It's Not Just a Fence, It's a System
By Rich McManus
On the Front Page...
The black metal fence being erected albeit in brief marches between rain showers this summer and fall may be the most obvious part of the new NIH perimeter security system, but it isn't all that stands between the campus and a potential aggressive act. Two other elements a campus Gateway Center and a Central Vehicle Inspection facility for all commercial vehicles offer additional protection. The three elements, not all proceeding at the same pace (mainly to preserve parking for NIH'ers), will eventually harmonize and "work together in an integrated fashion to create a total perimeter security program," said Arturo Giron, deputy chief security officer, Office of Research Services.
"It's very important to realize that our security program is much more than the fence," said Giron, who chairs two of the three NIH security committees formed largely in response to 9/11 and sits on the third (see sidebar). The perimeter fence, due for completion early in 2004, offers general physical security, as does a plan to "harden" the exteriors of certain key buildings nearest the perimeter with a special Mylar glazing, Giron noted.
But the fence is not just the 9-foot pickets, he explained; there are also 8 pedestrian gates located around the perimeter operable with proximity cards and another 8 pedestrian/vehicle entrances, plus a variety of anti-ram defensive measures including strategic use of boulders and vehicular cable barriers running parallel to the fence in certain vulnerable places. These consist of four 1-inch steel cables secured to poles and anchored in concrete every 200 feet; this feature is perhaps most evident along Cedar Lane on the campus's north boundary. "We have also taken advantage of natural barriers including streams and trees to arrest potential ramming," noted Stella Serras-Fiotes, director of facilities planning in the Office of Research Facilities.
The Gateway Center complex, to be located near the Medical Center Metro station, has two pieces, continues Giron. "The center itself (located on the south side of the intersection of Center Drive and Rockville Pike) will process all visitors, in a welcoming way, to NIH, and include ID check. We hope eventually to be able to issue temporary access cards to visitors, which they will return to us on the way out," Giron said. "The cards will be specific to the building the guest needs to visit." He envisions a web-based system wherein NIH'ers who expect visitors can alert security officials at the Gateway Center online about who is coming and when.
The second piece of the Center is an underground multi-level parking garage where visitors can leave their vehicles, which won't require inspection; this would be the only parking facility on campus outside the fence boundaries. "The idea is to inspect only those vehicles coming onto campus, within the perimeter fence," notes Giron.
Once visitors are parked and cleared at the Gateway, the plan, still subject to final approval, is for them to proceed via covered walkway to a shuttle bus station that will ferry them to their destinations within campus. Employees who have missed the "Kiss and Ride" option at this site will be relieved to know that this feature is to be restored to its prior status, Giron said. Patients coming to the Clinical Center, he added, and their visitors won't be required to use the Gateway, though that option will be available to them; a separate entrance for these populations is being established, in coordination with CC authorities, at Cedar Ln. and West Center Dr. "It will function strictly as an entrance, and be open during weekdays only," Giron said. "It could also be used as a campus exit in the event of emergency."
Whether they choose to enter campus via the Gateway or by Cedar Ln., patients and their visitors will find special Clinical Center information kiosks, staffed by CC hospitality workers, to help guide their way.
The third element of perimeter security is the Commercial Vehicle Inspection (CVI) facility, to be located on the northeast corner of campus, along Rockville Pike just south of Cedar Ln. All commercial vehicles visiting NIH must stop here, where multiple technologies will be used to inspect them.
"We'll be able to do chemical explosive trace analysis, and K-9 teams will be permanently stationed there," Giron said. "We'll do visual inspections of vehicles, and there will be a pit for examining the undercarriage. We may even be able to X-ray whole trucks eventually."
The CVI site was chosen because surveys showed that more than 90 percent of NIH's commercial traffic arrives at campus via Rockville Pike, headed south, said Giron. "We expect quick inspections with no significant delays for customers."
Once the "total perimeter security program" that Giron envisions is in place, life within the fence will still be somewhat scrutinized: "Certain buildings will continue to have a security guard presence," he said, "either because they are heavily trafficked (as in the A-wing of Bldg. 31) or because of their special status (such as the power plant)...Once the fence is up, we'll rely more heavily on electronic access systems (proximity cards) as opposed to guards at most buildings." (Note: Many people mistakenly think that the magnetic strip on the back of their ID card is the "trigger" for using proximity card access; the card itself has embedded electronics, so waving any part of it is effective, Giron explains.)
The timeline for deployment of the perimeter security system "varies from project to project," Giron added. "The fence and gates should be in place by January. The Gateway Center is slated for completion in 2006, but we'll have an interim solution, probably a double-wide trailer. The CVI is due to be finished around fall of 2005. That job won't start until the garage for Bldg. 33 is complete, because it would deprive the campus of 500 parking spots."
Just outside the fence, a perimeter pathway for pedestrians and cyclists is being constructed in areas not served by sidewalks. That pathway is perhaps most prominent on the front lawn of the National Library of Medicine, where work has proceeded this summer on a lighted path connecting the Pike to Old Georgetown Rd., along the campus's southern boundary. This path, lying 6 feet outside the perimeter fence, allows circulation at all hours, said Serras-Fiotes.
She and Giron assure NIH'ers that the perimeter fence will in no instance be used to pen employees in, even in the event of a Code Red emergency. "We can restrict access into campus," said Giron, "but we can't restrict access out. Anyone who needs or wants to get out can do so anytime they want." Even under Code Red, exit options for vehicles won't be restricted; there will always be 8 ways to drive off campus. "But you have to remember that the roads outside campus still have the same limited capacity (to accommodate a potential flood of evacuees)," cautioned Serras-Fiotes. "The main artery capacities in the area are what they are."
Giron said that in the event of campus evacuation, a controlled-phase dismissal plan would take effect. "The evacuation would be by parking area, not by what building you work in." An all-hands email has been distributed providing guidance in this area. He went on to distinguish Code Red from Code Orange: "Unlike the orange level, which covers the whole U.S., a Code Red would be very limited geographically. It would have to be based on much harder intelligence than is required for Code Orange. And it would only be for a short duration, no more than about 48 hours."
Giron said the fence project, which has been hampered by unusually wet weather, has some other features of interest to employees: each of the 8 vehicle entrances includes a "rejection lane" (for cars that fail initial visual inspection) that can also serve as a drop-off point for riders coming to campus. Also, a special "mini kiss-and-ride" is still in the design and modeling phase for possible inclusion at the Cedar Ln. patient/patient visitor entrance. A special vehicle hanger is also being developed that would allow employees to be dropped off within the campus, but does not grant parking privileges to the vehicle.
Finally, campus security involves much more than the perimeter system, Giron emphasized.
The NIH Police force has also been beefed up recently. "At the time of 9/11, we had 50 officers on the force. We have more than 70 now and we'll get to 90 by the beginning of the next fiscal year." NIH has also hired scores of unarmed guards who check IDs at building entrances and inspect vehicles entering campus.
"We also have probably one of the best fire departments in the state," he continues. "We now have a total of 31 fire fighters and added a tower truck that can reach up to 100 feet high. The fire department will be moving into their new fire house soon."
Furthermore, electronic security systems include the proximity card/ID cards worn by NIH'ers and a surveillance program employing video cameras targeting certain key areas of campus.
Security upgrades are also in progress at NIEHS in North Carolina and the Rocky Mountain Laboratories run by NIAID in Montana. "Each of these campuses has a well-articulated security program that meets its needs," Giron said. A perimeter fence exactly like the Bethesda campus version is planned for RML, and the possibility of a satellite NIH Police station there is being evaluated. "There is a bona fide need for an NIH law enforcement presence at this site," said Giron.
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