U seeks state funds for lab security

by Tim Sturrock

The University is requesting $3.9 million, as part of a state anti-terrorism bill, to tighten security of toxic chemicals, biological agents and radioactive toxins located on campus.

The Board of Regents approved the measure Friday, which includes installing keycard access readers for certain labs, using more student security monitors and video cameras, and keeping a laboratory materials invetory.

Rep. Rich Stanek, R-Maple Grove, the bill’s author, said the University’s request falls in line with many of the ideas represented in his bill, particularly the registry of hazardous biological materials.

He said that after the anthrax attacks last fall, “The University of Minnesota and others couldn’t tell us what was in some of those research labs, couldn’t tell us what were in some of those refrigerators and lockers and whatever else they keep them in. They just had no idea. And they weren’t very secure. People could come and go; there was no monitoring of them.”

He said although he hadn’t yet read the University’s proposal, he wants to spend the money necessary to close any gaps in security.

University President Mark Yudof, who presented the measure to the Board of Regents on Friday, said most students wouldn’t notice the changes if they happen. He expects some professors and graduate students who work in laboratories to be most affected.

Meanwhile, he said, interim steps will occur.

“You try to have more eyes and ears out there and you ask people to be more careful, and then you initiate some interim steps that you can do without going the 100 yards but that provides a higher level of safety then maybe you had yesterday,” Yudof said.

Dick Bianco, assistant vice president for regulatory affairs for medical research, said security concerns were ignited before Sept. 11, after research laboratories were vandalized in 1999.

The University should be an open place, Bianco said, but sensitive areas of research will need more closed access.

University police Chief George Aylward said the events of Sept. 11 made security a more immediate concern. He said, things that seemed impossible suddenly became concerns. It also became more likely the University could get the money it needed from the Legislature, he said.