CFATS in Research Facilities

A young woman who worked as a lab technician in a Boston area university was recently found dead in her apartment. Police have confirmed that she had a baggy in her purse with powder labeled cyanide. They believe she was despondent, mixed the cyanide in orange juice and drank it. The question now becomes how she got the poison. She did have access to it at her research job, but police are still not sure if that is how she obtained the lethal substance.

The university is reviewing its policy and procedure on chemical security in its labs and some experts have said that this points to the need for heightened security in educational facilities. The biggest security risk in this setting is theft and diversion. University campuses are usually fairly open with many people on and around campus each day. We don't know what happened in this case, but we do know protecting chemicals in that environment can be difficult and takes added precautions.

Most higher-level educational research facilities will have some very dangerous chemicals that are needed to conduct experiments and research on a daily basis. In a private business setting we can set the secured perimeter at the entrance to the facility and build layers of security as we move in -- to the protected assets. That is much harder to do in an open campus setting. It isn't practical to record, badge and monitor every visitor on campus.

In this type of situation you have to build a very tight security layer around the research labs and the targeted materials. That means monitoring direct access to those materials and making sure they are secured and accounted for. We can do that in a number of ways working with video monitoring and access solutions such as key pads or even biometrics.

There are a number of university research facilities that have been assigned to tier 1 for CFATS. These facilities have the difficult task of protecting students, facility, staff and the surrounding population. While we still don't know that the cyanide the young woman took was from the university, it does point out the need to track dangerous materials in research settings. Fortunately, in this case the county health department decontaminated the young woman's apartment and it appears that no one else was affected by the poison. In a different scenario the situation could be much worse.


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