Who goes there? Who knows at county offices

Commissioners ask panel of workers to fix security

Westminster

March 19, 2003|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

Visitors wander the first floor without identification. Emergency workers complain that little prevents strangers from straying into the 911 dispatch center. Until recently, building keys were either unaccounted for or in the hands of ex-employees.

These are some of the security problems that concern Carroll officials at the County Office Building in Westminster.

The county commissioners say they want to eliminate such breaches and have assigned a panel of county employees the task of tightening building security.

"We have been concerned for a while about security in our building and our employees are as concerned as anyone," said Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge. "We have also heard from citizens who come into county buildings that our security is not nearly as good in comparison with other government buildings."

Gouge and others say they worry about a wide range of problems - from people wandering into offices containing confidential files to terrorists crippling the county's emergency response system.

County officials say they don't know of any serious break-ins or thefts because of loose security. But that doesn't mean such problems couldn't happen, they add.

"The County Office Building is wide open once you are in there," Gouge said. "Elevators and stairs are easy to access."

Possible additions the security panel has discussed include: a requirement that all visitors sign in at the front desk; rope lines that would steer people toward the appropriate offices; and an electronic swipe-card system that employees would use to enter the building after work hours or on weekends.

Although county officials say they are not ready to announce specific security enhancements, they have met several times in recent weeks to discuss the changes. Some of the added security measures probably would remain a secret even after they go into place, said county commissioners' chief of staff Steven D. Powell.

"Right now, we are deciding on the parameters the board is willing to work within and getting cost estimates," Powell said. He offered no timetable for tightening security.

"We are looking at what we can afford now," Gouge added. "We can't afford to ignore it."

The commissioners created the security panel shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The panel's initial efforts focused on emergency plans in case of bomb or anthrax scares. But as fear waned, the panel grew less active, said Ralph Green, the county's director of permits and inspections, who now chairs the group.

Green said efforts to add more routine security didn't pick up until the new board of commissioners took over in December and expressed an immediate interest in the subject.

"The new commissioners have definitely chosen to go forward more aggressively than we did in the past," Green said.

Sun staff writer Mary Gail Hare contributed to this article.

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