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Residents that routinely drive through the gates of the Los Alamos National Laboratory at the intersection of Diamond Drive and West Jemez Road probably have noticed one key security change: having to present a photo ID. Vehicles are now also subject to random searches.
According to Michael Lansing, associate director for Safeguards and Security for LANL, that change started in late December, and LANL has been implementing other, less public changes based on recent information.
“We want the community to know what we’re doing,” Lansing told attendees at a recent business breakfast hosted by the Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce. “We know that does impact the community when we do things in a security space and we’re sensitive in ensuring that what we do is one, you’re informed, and two, just as importantly, we take into consideration the impacts on the community the things we’re going to do,” he said.
As far as the vehicle searches go, Lansing said there is no rhyme or reason to the increased scrutiny.
“We have a random number generator, if your number comes up, you get searched,” he said. He also added that people can refuse the right to be searched as well; but they will also be turned away at the gates. The same procedure will happen if a driver cannot produce some sort of photo identification.
Lansing would not go into specific detail as to why they’ve implemented the security changes, only saying it was based on some information they received. He also said he did not know if and when the procedures may be relaxed.
“If the threat changes, we may stand down on some of the things we’re doing now,” he said. “We still continue to do random vehicle checks in addition to what we’re doing now, and it’s important for you to know that the safety and security at the laboratory is job one.”
Lansing also revealed at the presentation that LANL has been preparing itself against possible terrorist scenarios, including, a truck or vehicle bomb finding its way to the “open campus” area, which includes the intersection of Diamond Drive and West Jemez Road.
“This is the only major nuclear facility that you can still drive on without some sort of identification and check,” Lansing said.
“In light of that reality, and in light of the fact that I don’t think the security threat is going to change much, we are promoting and championing what we call a bypass option.”
Basically, what that means for Los Alamos residents is that someday, perhaps two or three years from now, drivers who don’t have the lab as a destination will no longer have to stop and be checked at the gates on Diamond; there will be an alternative route for them that bypasses the lab all together.
“This is an iconic laboratory,” Lansing said. “Anyone that wants to make a major statement can take a look at this laboratory and make it a potential target.”
According to Lansing, even though the project has not been officially approved yet, the Department of Energy has shown considerable interest in the proposal and has funded a study and design plans to further explore the option.
Lansing also assured the audience that the general public’s input will be heard when and if the project is officially approved.
If a bypass is approved, that may mean that the corner of Diamond Drive and West Jemez will be declared off limits to demonstrations and anti-nuclear protesters.
When asked whether they would have access to that corner or not, Lansing said “We don’t know yet. We will give them the ability to exercise their free speech rights, but we will do it in such a way that ensures the security and safety of the laboratory, the laboratory employees and the activists themselves.”
He also revealed that since the new safety measures have been implemented, employees have been asking if LANL is a safe place to work.
“It is,” Lansing said. “If we get actionable intelligence that gives us reason to put on other security measures, we will do that,” Lansing said. “We’ve got several other ways to ratchet up the security.”
As far as security inside the lab is concerned, Lansing said they’ve been preparing for that too.
The other security threat they’ve been preparing for is an “active shooter” scenario, where a person armed with a gun starts shooting people inside the complex. He said that is being handled mostly through educating employees on what to look for when it comes to their fellow employees, and working with local law enforcement.
In March, Lansing said LANL will be conducting a “full scale exercise” with its security forces as well as the Los Alamos Police Department that will have an active shooter as the subject.