Security Tighter But Not Oppressive At UC-Run Labs

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Many employees at UC-run labs say they have grown accustomed to working among the labs' post-Sept 11 security measures.

Employees at Lawrence Livermore National, Los Alamos National, and the Lawrence Berkeley National laboratories-many of whom are UC Berkeley faculty and students working on research-say increased security has become the norm.

"For those of us who work here, there's not much change noted," said Livermore lab spokesperson David Schwoegler. "There already is a high level of security. We are constantly improving (security measures). That's an ongoing process. For the employee who works here they would only notice the traffic and parking differences."

Traffic has been slightly slower with the closure of one road leading to the Livermore lab and the mandatory searches of all incoming delivery trucks by armed guards and sniffing dogs. This process can take up to 10 minutes and may take longer if contraband items are found.

Since the mandatory searches began, there has been an increase in the number of contraband items discovered-firearms, illegal narcotics and video recording devices, Schwoegler said.

But while employees experience these minor inconveniences, others find themselves banned from visiting the labs.

Some visitors may not be allowed to enter the facility at all if they are from a list of 23 countries the Department of Energy has deemed "sensitive nations."

Visitors to the lab from these countries, which include Iraq, Israel and Uzbekistan, are required to have a background check, which may take up to three months.

Sometimes the lab is not willing to go to all of that trouble to have them visit the lab, Schwoegler said.

The Livermore and Los Alamos labs have also experienced other stringent security changes to help protect their nuclear research.

Lab officials have been hesitant to provide specific details about what changes went into effect when the national government raised the labs' security level. They have said, however, there has been an increase in the number of guards at the facility.

According to Schwoegler, there are approximately 200 members of what he called a "protective force," nearly all of whom are armed. They are charged with protecting the lab's sensitive information and approximately 10,000 daily employees and visitors.

Livermore lab officials also have staffed the lab's perimeter with armed guards. Prior to Sept. 11, there were no armed perimeter guards.

Lab officials said they have increased their guard staff by 50 percent since Sept. 11, although the increase was already scheduled prior to that date, said Los Alamos lab spokesperson Kevin Roark.

In addition, they have closed off a road alongside the plutonium facility, where research on the status of American nuclear weapons is done.

The Livermore and Los Alamos labs-like the Berkeley lab-have never been threatened since the original attacks, and lab officials are relying on their increased sensitivity to further protect them.

"At no time post-Sept. 11 has there been any credible threat to Los Alamos," Roark said. "The lab has always been really vigilant about (security). There may be an increased awareness but nothing you'd call an official mandate. They've always taken security here very seriously, and that has not changed."

Back in the Berkeley lab, whose researchers do not perform any classified research, there has been much less of a dramatic change to the lab's daily operations.

"Prior to Sept. 11 we were an open site," said Don Bell, manager for Security and Emergency Services at the Berkeley lab. "After Sept. 11 the Department of Energy saw a need to increase security, (but) it did not require a significant increase of security officers (at the Berkeley lab)."

After the attacks, the Berkeley lab hired a small handful of security officers to complement its less than 50 unarmed security guards. UC police officers will assist Berkeley lab guards if they need armed backup.

Now employees and visitors must show an identification card to take the free shuttle up the hill to the laboratory. Before the attacks, many shuttle riders said anyone could board the shuttle with no questions asked, even though a rule existed that required the showing of identification.

"Once the staff became accustomed to (increased security), it was business as usual." Bell said.


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