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Vest Announces New Security Task Force

Task Force To Assess Risks Faced by MIT

By Shirali Pandya

In response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, President Charles M. Vest announced the formation of a new Task Force on Campus Security.

In a press release issued on October 9, Vest said that the task force would “assist us in setting policy and planning for heightened security and safety for the immediate and longer-term future.”

The task force, chaired by Executive Vice President John R. Curry, will look at the potential risks that the Institute faces, assess these risks, and develop a priority list for how to deal with them. Its focuses will be the physical safety of people at MIT and the flow information.

An initial report, outlining the major issues at hand and suggesting safety measures, will be presented to Vest by mid-November, according to his press release.

Group uses several strategies

The task force has adopted a three-prong approach for campus security. One subcommittee, headed by Vice President and Dean for Research J. David Litster, is looking at biological, chemical, and nuclear hazards. Director of Public Safety Anne P. Glavin is in charge of the subcommittee overseeing access and openness of the campus, and Robert P. Redwine, Dean for Undergraduate Education, chairs the subcommittee about information policy and privacy issues.

Anthrax scares alert task force

Recent anthrax scares have alerted many to the threat of biological materials on campus. On Tuesday, a lecturer in Foreign Languages and Literature in Building 14E reported an envelope containing a white substance to the police. The Biological Safety Team and Campus Police arrived at the scene and quartered off and decontaminated the surrounding area. The contaminated items were then bagged and taken to the Massachusetts State Laboratory for anthrax tests, Curry said.

So far, Curry reports that of the two items tested, both tested negative. In the past week, four cases of such mail-related substances have been reported, but none have been confirmed to be anthrax.

Tuesday’s incident has brought the issue of biohazard threats to the forefront. Curry said that the task force has sent out a briefing about what to look for, how to handle mail, where to get latex gloves, and details about anthrax.

Curry admits that Tuesday’s procedures were “not well orchestrated” and that “clear protocols for such a situation” need to be defined. For this purpose, Litster’s subcommittee is arranging training sessions to plan coordination between the Biological Safety Team, the Campus Police, and the Cambridge Fire Department.

MIT to limit vehicle access

In his broad plan for campus safety, Curry said that MIT may be “the most permeable campus” he has seen. With many entrances facing city streets and “virtually no control points,” there is reason for concern. It is quite possible, he said, for a truck to cut across campus without being stopped.

Glavin’s subcommittee is investigating the vehicular access of the campus, and implementing security measures for protection. Some procedures are already in place, such as increased checking of permits in parking lots. Fire lanes, which are often used for shortcuts through campus, will be blocked off, and bollards, jersey barriers, and gates with card access will be installed at other key points. Curry hopes that with these precautions, MIT will be “less open to those we might want to stop and check.”

Redwine affirms privacy policy

Another major issue at this time is that of privacy and the release of information. Redwine’s committee is focusing on “how MIT will respond to requests for information about students, faculty, staff and others in our community, by law enforcement and other government agencies or the media.”

“We affirm that [the Institute’s privacy policies] are as right today as they were in the past,” Redwine said. “The policies that have historically been in place are quite appropriate for our circumstances.” These old policies maintain that the personal information of someone in the MIT community will not be disclosed outside of MIT without individual consent, or in the case of health or security emergency. Any information other than basic personnel information will not be released in the case of a court order or subpoena.

Student perspectives differ

Among the student population, there are mixed feelings about the likelihood of an attack on the institution. Some, such as Christina T. Fuentes ’05, admit to being concerned about their safety. “Being at MIT, one of the centers of technology and research, I feel more at risk than if I were at any another university in the country,” Fuentes said.

Others, such as Joshua P. Aronson ’04, “feel pretty secure here” and “don’t see MIT being a target.”

For Raymond Raad ’04, the promptness with which Tuesday’s anthrax incident was dealt with is a sign that the institution is well prepared for any situation. “The fact that MIT responded so quickly and so well kept me at ease,” Raad said.

With heightened security, the Task Force now faces the important issue of personal privacy and has created a subcommittee to oversee this subject.

Undergraduate Association president Jamie E. Devereaux ’02 sees this as a positive indication that the institution is concerned with the issue “That this subcommittee has been established to look specifically at what would be appropriate for MIT indicates that the Institute takes the issue of privacy very seriously and is not bowing to outside pressure to disclose unnecessary information,” Devereaux said.