While most of the Lab’s workforce has returned to some semblance of normalcy following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and subsequent U.S. actions, one group remains at a heightened state of alert: the officers of the Protective Force Division.
Whether they check badges at the gates, patrol the site, conduct searches for explosives and other contraband at various entry points or work administratively, the Lab’s protective force officers are working overtime to make sure the Laboratory is safe and secure.
The Lab’s security status remains at a higher level alert than normal. As a result, all officers, sergeants and watch commanders are working 12-hour shifts, five days a week, said Eric Steele, Protective Force Division leader. “We are planning for this heightened state of alert to be long-term.”
In the early hours of Sept. 11, shortly after the attacks were reported, the phones in the Protective Force Division started ringing off the hooks.
“When the attack happened, we couldn’t get enough people answering phones. They were all calls from officers off-duty who wanted to come in,” Sgt. John Smalls said.
Protective Force had a high-alert emergency plan in place and it took less than 90 minutes to swing into action, Steele said.
“We went immediately to security condition 2. We put security measures for the Lab in place and opened the Security Operations Center and directed operations from there,” Steele said. “People who were planning to go home from the owl shift stayed and additional officers came in.”
The heightened state of alert is noticeable, from the closure of pedestrian gates on East Avenue and the addition of a security check point at the South Gate and southwest entrances to the increased patrols through buildings and expanded searches of all deliveries.
Many employees have called PFD to commend the officers, Sgt. Gary Abundis said, and all of those compliments have been passed on during roll call.
“I’ve been receiving calls about the extra attention the employees have been receiving and the help they’ve been getting,” Abundis said. “I encourage employees to tell the officers at the post. It would be nice for them to hear it directly.”
There have also been a few complaints about the increased security measures, Steele acknowledged.
“It’s contrary to the university-style of business. It’s a paradigm shift and we understand that,” Steele said. “This is not a short-term situation, however.”
Employees who have any concerns about security are encouraged to contact the Protective Force Division. The sergeants have been meeting with supervisors to address concerns and explain the security measures are in place.
“We are responsible for the protection of this facility and we’re here 24-7,” Abundis said. “We’re not new at this business. “
Smalls added, “We’re still here to protect and to serve, even in this state of emergency.”
Despite the long hours, the officers remain very supportive, say their commanding officers.
“The officers’ motivation is high,” Abundis said. “Their dedication is just superb. Whatever we ask of them, they are willing to do it. Their families feel the pain of the long hours, but all of the officers are dedicated and showing their commitment on a daily basis.”
The watch commanders and sergeants are doing what they can to accommodate the needs of officers who have daycare issues and other personal conflicts that have resulted from extending their shifts by four hours each day.
“We’re trying to keep the line of communication with their families open,” Abundis said. “As an organization, we appreciate the support of the Lab population. These are trying times. We’re doing everything we can so employees can continue doing their jobs.”