Chemical Indicators: Laboratory Security Awareness

This video offers a realistic scenario that emphasizes the importance of maintaining awareness in the academic laboratory environment and reporting suspicious activity to the appropriate authorities. It is designed to be viewed by faculty, students, and staff who work in and around laboratories, chemicals, and equipment. Industrial laboratory employees will also benefit from viewing the video.


Video Transcript

Do you really have to go and study right now?

I have two tests on Thursday.

You worry too much.

When's the last time you didn't get an A on a test?

I get A's because I worry, that's the whole point of worrying.

And anyway…

[Explosion]

Apartment was rented to one tenant, male, mid-20s named Alan Brown.

It looks like Brown was in the middle stages of putting together one or more explosive devices and got a little careless.

Or a lot.

Any fatalities?

Only Brown. We've got one person in fair condition, being treated for closed head trauma; another three people being treated for cuts from flying glass, minor scrapes and ringing ears.

I guess it could have been worse.

Yeah but without the mad bomber to answer questions-- what he was up to?

Or -- Did he have any accomplices?

Where did he get his materials?

I guess it's time to start talking to the neighbors.

I know it sounds cliché, but it's the truth: He was pretty much the quiet type, as far as I could tell. No loud music, no wild parties. He'd be the perfect neighbor except for... you know, stuff blowing up.

So you were here when the explosion happened?

I was.

Scared me half to death.

I thought a truck had slammed into the building.

Was there ever anything about Mr. Brown that seemed strange or out of place?

Well once you know that in the end something explodes, you think Oh, yeah, I guess that's what that stuff was.

Stuff?

Yeah, a couple of times I saw him carrying around, like, lab stuff, you know, beakers, jars.

But everybody else here is majoring in chem or bio-chem so I just figured he was bringing his classwork home.

Was there ever anything else?

Well, yeah, the smell coming outta that place sometimes was really bad. I used to live near a chemical plant when I was a kid. Some days, the smell from that place was like going back to my childhood.

If he'd made just one quick call to campus police, we might have a live terrorist suspect we could be questioning instead of a body getting cold in the morgue.

(moving toward the boxes marked "Evidence" as though he's noticed something:)

We may have one answer.

What do you mean?

I'm Special Agent Williams and this is Special Agent Barber with the FBI.

We're investigating the explosion that happened at the Belvedere Apartments last night and we'd like to ask you a few questions.

You might want to talk to Dr. Ashton? He runs the lab, he'll be back any time. We're just grad students.

We will, thanks. But we'd like to talk to you two.

I was here grading lab reports until two in the morning, I didn't-

Listen nobody here is a suspect, we already know who caused the explosion.

We're just trying to connect some dots.

There was a bottle of hydrogen peroxide at the scene with a label from this lab.

That guy.

What guy?

I knew that guy was weird.

Is this him?

Yeah, I saw him in here three or four days ago, it was around dinner time so the place was mostly empty.

I didn't recognize him, so I asked if he needed any help.

He said he was just picking up some stuff for Dr. Bridger.

I asked him what he was working on, and he just said "plastics stuff" which was weird but he was already walking away, and he knew Dr. Bridger, so...

Concentrated hydrogen peroxide is pretty dangerous stuff. Very simple, very strong oxidizer. Used for everything from bleaching to rocket fuel.

Well ... yeah.

So you know it's nothing to play with.

I bet that's the same container that went missing the other day.

It was there in the shipping list, someone definitely signed for it... but when we needed it for our phenol process work, but we couldn't find it, so I borrowed it from next door.

But I told em I was taking it, it's not like it suddenly went missing.

Hang on.

I got an email on Monday from this guy who said he was a student, but he didn't have an edu address. He said he needed some advice on how to concentrate hydrogen peroxide...

He told me the same thing he told to you, that he was working with Dr. Bridger, and when I asked him what he needed it for, he just said Propylene synthesis.

But that's weird because Doc B is pure theory, he would never do organic syntheses.

When I told him I couldn't help, that was it, he never wrote back.

Well he won't be writing anyone back any time soon.

Well he's not one of my senior students. I have hundreds of students every semester. If I had him, he never did anything to stand out.

Did you know he was seen in the lab here recently?

He used Dr. Bridger's name when one of your grad students talked to him?

You're kidding!

Well I can assure you, there's no way John Bridger knew anything about this. It all just seems....

So crazy, it's not the sort of thing you would expect to happen. We'll talk to Dr. Bridger.

But unfortunately, this type of thing happens more frequently than you might think. Many universities don't have clear guidelines in place of suspicious activities that should trigger a call to the authorities.

Here are some guidelines the FBI uses to identify suspicious behaviors in university laboratories.

[Hands academic brochure to Professor]

Sharing that information with your students will go a long way toward enhancing chemical security awareness on campus. There are several things we can do to improve chemical security in the lab. Like being aware of people trying to access the lab who don't have any business being there.

Now, I know we work in a collaborative environment, and we're going to see strange faces, but students need to know they may be asked what class or project they're with, and to not be shy about asking that same question of any student they don't recognize.

Locking up the lab when you leave for the day is a good idea, also.

Yeah, we'll definitely do a better job keeping control of chemical inventory.

If something is missing or moved, we'll say something even if we just think something MIGHT be missing.

It has to be like that with chemical and equipment orders, too. Like if something is ordered but no one ever sees it arrive, or if something arrives and no one knows who ordered it.

 Yes, and any student needs to speak up when some unknown person asks for technical info, especially about hazardous materials or processes, whether it's e-mail, phone call, Internet chat, whatever.

 I'm John Perren, Assistant Director of the FBI's Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate.

 The video you just saw highlights the importance of the research and learning that takes place in an open academic environment. But it also highlights that these same environments may be opportune targets for a criminal or terrorist looking for bomb making chemicals or equipment.

Everything you do to control your oversight of chemical dangers makes everyone safer. And your willingness to report suspicious activity to law enforcement is critical of securing the country against these threats.

 

 

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