Yale Killing Defied Tight Lab Security
70 video surveillance cameras monitor the medical school complex where Yale
University graduate student Annie Le's body was found last weekend.
type of electronic equipment has increasingly become part of the regular
framework of animal research labs — in part because of threats from
animal rights activists. The heavy security measures are designed to protect
people and property as well as the animals that provide valuable information
for researchers conducting scientific experiments.
are more than 1,000 research facilities in the U.S. registered with the
Agriculture Department, and many are tied to universities. Divulging information
about their security plans is not on the top of their list — and most
that NPR contacted declined to do so. Frankie Trull, the president of the
Foundation for Biomedical Research in Washington . D.C., says research labs
have been beefing up their security systems ever since the 1980s, when animal
activists conducted a rash of break-ins.
if someone from off the sidewalk wanted to walk through a lab, I would suggest
that would be difficult to do in the vast majority of the university research
facilities around the country," Trull says.
many universities with research facilities, it's been a balancing act determining
how much to spend on security versus the campus library or extracurricular
activities, for example. But Richard Bianco, the head of experimental surgery
at the University of Minnesota , says it's a challenge research facilities
have had to address. His school began to do so a decade ago after animal-rights
activists came on campus. "They let our animals go in a northern suburb
of Minneapolis in April, which either the eagles and raptors got them —
or the cold got them. They killed our animals," Bianco says. "In
addition, many of our students had their Ph.D. thesis based on the data
from some of the learning experiments in psychology. Some of these animals
were highly trained — pigeons, for instance — and they had to
start all over with that. In addition, [the activists] destroyed cell cultures
where we were growing cells to treat cancer patients — and that was
destroyed and was not recoverable." The university put cameras in hallways
and common areas, required key cards for access into certain lab rooms and
facilities, and put up panic alarms — buttons that could be pressed
to alert police to come to the area. Jack Hessler, the co-editor of a document
on planning and designing research facilities — a project of the American
College of Laboratory Animal Medicine — says that beyond setting up
cameras, card swipes, and key card controls, some facilities use biometrics
like a handprint or retina identification in addition to an ID card. "Even
the dean and on down the line of people don't have access to it if they
aren't doing animal research inside of the facility and they aren't approved
to do the research. They don't get in," Hessler says.
with the Foundation for Biomedical Research says protecting employees is
paramount, but the animals are also important. Take mice and rats —
many of them are genetically modified, and it can take a great deal of time,
as well as money, to get the particulars in place that researchers are trying
to create. "They need to be in special environments," Trull says.
"A lot of them are receiving treatments that ultimately will translate
into human medicine. So when they're stolen, it can ruin years of a research
project." One of the last major break-ins at a university research
facility occurred at the University of Iowa five years ago, when the Animal
Liberation Front claimed responsibility for removing hundreds of animals
— mostly mice and rats — from research labs. ALF activists also
smashed computers and destroyed research documents. At the time, the group
said it had bypassed many of the security measures.
and others agree that no security system is foolproof, and there's always
the risk of an inside job. The key to the surveillance systems is to make
sure someone is always monitoring what's being recorded by the cameras.