Security on the MIT Campus
Director of Security and Campus Police Services John DiFava responds to concerns posed by the Faculty Newsletter.
Attitude changes since 9/11/01
Since the terrorist attacks, there has been an important shift in people's attitudes toward security measures, because the need for them is much clearer now. Before, people were less willing to put up with the inconvenience that some security procedures can require. Another difference I've noticed is that people realize that security is not just the job of uniformed professionals. Instead, everyone must take some responsibility for security.
Here at MIT, community members are very interested in security issues, and that attention seems to be growing. My goal for our campus is to provide the appropriate levels of protection in ways that have as little impact as possible on people's freedom.
In Building 18, for example, we had a sort of "town meeting" with the people who work there, and I think that once they understood the philosophy behind the security measures, they were pretty willing to go along with them.
Does MIT's research make us a target?
Some community members have wondered whether the types of research that are conducted on our campus are likely to make MIT a target of a terrorist attack. Terrorism is certainly about making a statement. So, my feeling is that any place that does research and also is as high profile an institution as MIT could potentially be a target. However, it's important to note that there have been no particular, specific threats toward the Institute.
I have assigned one of the MIT Police lieutenants to spend a significant portion of his time reviewing information from federal, state, and local governments about terrorist activities that they are tracking. This keeps us current and connected to what's going on beyond our campus.
Security changes planned for the campus
A major change is that we're approaching security at MIT in a more comprehensive manner. A lot of improvements had already been made, but the key as we go forward is to coordinate those efforts. That's a major part of my job, and I'll be emphasizing system interoperability and integration.
In addition, I'm looking at the campus area by area, because there are some locations where it's easy to tighten up access without causing undue inconvenience. For example, MIT's Central Utilities Plant is relatively easy to make more secure because only people who need to be there should have access to the building. That's probably true in other locations as well.
Another way to increase both security and people's perception of being safe is to improve lighting. And, working with the Department of Facilities, we are tackling lighting issues both within and outside campus buildings.
I'm pleased to tell you that the budget for the MIT Police was not cut for fiscal year 2004. In addition, I will have a budget of $500,000 for implementing new security measures. In order to determine how best to utilize these resources, I'm creating two committees that will advise me. The first is called the Institute Security Advisory Board, and its members will suggest security measures that still are needed. The other, the Security Working Group, will help to put those ideas into operation.
Personal safety in labs
Faculty members and some graduate students have told me that they are concerned about safety when they need to work at odd hours in their labs. First, I should note that there is now more coverage of the campus by MIT officers on foot patrol. Another improvement is that we are interacting more with the Cambridge Police Department to acquire their crime data. If that data and mapping information show activity near our campus, we respond appropriately.
In addition, there are specific things that researchers can do to increase their sense of security - especially if they're working at unusual hours. One is to call the MIT Police to discuss the situation. For example, an officer can make a "well-being" check at the lab. Also, we can escort a researcher to his or her vehicle when they're ready to leave the lab.
In response to a question about whether there have been many break-ins to our labs, I can tell you that in the 27 months I've worked at MIT, there has been only one forced break-in, and that was into an office. The other "break-ins" were by people who had keys or card access to the areas.
The presence of uniformed officers
There's no question that the presence of uniformed officers makes people feel safer, and that's part of the reason that you now see more MIT cops patrolling on campus. Our cruisers and motorcycles are clearly marked, and even the officers on the bicycle patrol wear distinctive uniforms. Only the detectives and the administrative staff of MIT Police wear plain clothes.
Safety in MIT's parking garages
In my view, there's some risk in any kind of parking area. That's why I've increased the MIT Police presence in our garages with both motorcycle and cruiser patrols on a frequent basis. The availability of emergency phones is also important to increase the community's sense of safety in the garages (and elsewhere on campus).
If faculty members have other concerns that haven't been addressed in this article, I would welcome hearing from them.