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Lab ratchets up security

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Random searches: Local businesses question impact on tourism

By Whitney Jones

People traveling through Los Alamos National Laboratory property to get to popular hiking and hot spring destinations may find their vehicles subject to random searches by lab authorities.

That’s the latest from LANL Security and Safeguards Associate Director Michael Lansing who revealed the plan Thursday to Los Alamos business leaders.

“I think it is the right thing to do given the threats on campus,” he said adding that he didn’t have knowledge of any specific threats.

Lansing said he anticipates the lab will begin the searches next month and will require passengers, should they consent to the search, to exit the vehicle while a guard does a visual check and a security dog sniffs out the vehicle.

Should passengers refuse a search, they will be given instructions on an alternate route around the lab, he said. The searches would be by numbers and not by a guard’s familiarity with frequent passers-by, which he explained is exactly what potential terrorists are looking for.

“What they’re looking for is predictability,” Lansing said.

He said that possibility of being searched should act as a deterrent for potential wrongdoers.

“Make no doubt there is a threat,” Lansing said further reiterating the need for random searches. “There is no doubt in my mind.”

He said the lab has already been studying how to implement such a program in the past year and said policies and procedures are already in place.

Georgia Strickfaden, of Buffalo Tours, attended the meeting. She questioned how visitors to Los Alamos would be notified that they could be subject to the random searches.

Lansing said signage is already in place and fliers will be handed out to local businesses to offer to their customers.

Eric Fairfield is with the fledgling Los Alamos Entrepreneurs Networks group. He took issue with the effect the searches may have on local businesses.

“Please don’t drive us out of town,” he told Lansing.

Los Alamos Police Chief Wayne Torpy also attended the meeting. He said random searches are a common occurrence on government property throughout the country.

“I think a single small event would have a much more drastic effect on the community than any number of vehicles checked,” he said.

Torpy acknowledged the need to balance the needs of the community with that of the lab.

“We need to protect the lab as much for the community’s well-being as much as the lab’s well-being,” he said.

Lansing said he will also be presenting the plan to the county council during Tuesday’s public meeting at 7 p.m.

County Councilor Fran Berting said while she’s looking forward to Lansing’s briefing to the council next week, she thinks the Lab is correct to think it is vulnerable to possible attacks.

“I think it’s one of those things we need to take in stride quite frankly,” she said.