When it comes to security, lab managers must match the zeal of the threat with equal animus.
In the pre-dawn hours of November 14, 2004, a Sunday, a group of animal rights fanatics illegally entered the locked Spence Laboratories, an animal research facility in the Psychology Department at the University of Iowa. The intruders somehow compromised the four-walled security system that featured perimeter, elevator, corridor, and animal room access control, including card-key access. Offices and laboratories were selectively vandalized. Paper-dissolving acid was poured on research documents. Computers used in animal research work were destroyed.
The radical UK-based animal rights group Animal Liberation Front, or ALF, later claimed responsibility for the attack.
The ALF also ‘liberated’ 88 mice and 313 rats that morning, animals used in basic behavioral and biological research aimed at better understanding, memory, learning, body temperature regulation, and sleep. The raiders then spray-painted incendiary slogans on the walls: “Science not sadism” and “Free the animals.”
The incident on the University of Iowa campus illustrates the principle distinction between securing animal research facilities and securing banks, jewelry stores, or automobile dealerships. Whereas the concern of most enterprises is to secure inventory from theft or data from compromise, laboratory animal facilities must contend also with the zealotry of the ALF and similar groups, such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
Animal research facilities are the prime targets for radical groups that oppose using animals for research. The intimidation bar has been raised, with even the families of researchers now being threatened.
In an email message sent to the press four days after the Iowa break-in, the ALF said, “This raid was carried out to halt the barbaric research of the UI Psychology Department’s seven primary animal researchers.” The message listed each researcher’s addresses, home telephone numbers, and spouses’ name.
Former police detective Tim Dimoff, now president of Akron, OH-based SACS Consulting & Investigative Services (www.sacsconsulting.com), said management of animal research labs have had their vehicles and homes vandalized, and family members threatened.
“There have been actual physical attacks, personal information is listed on animal rights group websites, and monetary rewards posted for their deaths and/or intimidation,” Dimoff said.
Animal rights activists aren’t the only threat to laboratories. Since the 2001 anthrax letter scares there is also the stark awareness that biologic, chemical, and radioactive materials found in laboratory environments could be used as agents of terror.
Lab managers must therefore summon a comparable zeal to thwart such incidents. Laboratory security measures should be commensurate with risk potential.