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An aquatic adventure at the National Aquarium in Baltimore.

JUST IMAGINE IF, INSTEAD OF WORKING IN AN OFFICE WITH other people, you reported to work every day with beluga whales, bonnet-head sharks, blue-crowned motmots, and poison-dart frogs. Throw in more than 2 million gallons of fresh and salt water, 209,000 square feet of space, and 1.4 million visitors annually and your head could really start to swim. If you work for the National Aquarium in Baltimore--one of the hottest tourist attractions on the East Coast--these conditions are a reality.

The National Aquarium, which opened in 1981, is located in Baltimore's Inner Harbor and is Maryland's most popular paid tourist attraction. The aquarium and its recently completed addition, the Marine Mammal Pavilion, house more than 5,000 specimens representing 500 species of fish, birds, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, plants, and marine mammals. Among the major exhibits are an Atlantic coral reef, a shark tank, a South American rain forest, a seal pool, a 1.2 million gallon whale and dolphin habitat, and the largest ray exhibit in the country. A full time staff of 200, plus nearly 500 volunteers, keeps the whole place running like a well-oiled machine.

The National Aquarium's two buildings--the main building and the new Marine Mammal Pavilion--are joined by a glass-enclosed footbridge, and they occupy piers three and four in the Harbor. Both structures were designed with the animals in mind--insulation and spring-mounted water pumps keep noise levels down, and the pavilion features huge expanses of glass to allow natural light to come in.

Security Director Charlie Tudor, who came on board in 1989 after retiring from 23 years with the Baltimore County police department, makes sure the aquarium staff successfully integrates security and visitor services. In fact, security reports to the visitor services department, reinforcing the importance the facility places on the safety and security of its visitors as well as its inhabitants. And make no mistake:The animals are the kings of this facility, and everything is done with them in mind. After all, the aquarium's residents are virtually priceless.

Tudor's arrival in 1989 coincided with the construction of the Marine Mammal Pavilion, and that seemed like a good time to enhance the equipment used for security. New radio and communication systems were needed, and the old VHF radio system was completely scrapoped. "The VHF system that was in place in the old building didn't work when we moved into the new Marine Mammal Pavilion because of the density of the building--it's all steel, concrete, and water," says Tudor. "We weren't getting reception between the two buildings." So a new, UHF system was installed.

Unlike similar facilities, the aquarium focuses on education rather than entertainment, meaning the security officers and other personnel have to become experts of sorts. "Security here is partly a public relations function," Tudor notes. After all, security officers are often stopped by visitors asking questions. The 30 security officers on staff know their stuff, and they care about the animals--Tudor notes they learn a lot about the animals simply by working around them. Quite often a security officer is the first to spot an animal that is sick or acting strangely.

Tudor prefers to hire security officers who have prior security experience. The aquarium keeps 10 to 12 unarmed officers on duty at any given time, although there can be as many as 15 during special events or peak times. Peak times are weekends and holidays, although January through March is the peak season for school groups, and after Memorial Day the weekday crowds increase. An officer posted in front of the main entrance keeps a handle on hustlers, jewelry peddlers, ticket scalpers, and parking violators.

The security staff receive training in bomb detection, and they also learn how to handle people in difficult situations. In addition, nonsecurity personnel receive training in CPR, treatment of injuries, and building excavation procedures.

The officers are supplemented by 16 video cameras located throughout the facility that record every activity, 24 hours a day. One camera, in the dolphin and whale pavilion, is used solely for watching the animals for any sign of trouble. Security base stations in both buildings have a monitor dedicated to that camera. The camera even features an infrared illuminator so it can record in the dark without disturbing the animals' sleep.

In addition, the aquarium has an emergency medicalk technician on duty at all times, and a mammalogist and an aquarist are also on call in case of an emergency with a mammal or fish. After hours two officers are always on duty in each building, including one at each security base station. Cameras are trained on all the doors, with pan/tilt and zoom cameras at the front and rear of each pier.

The aquarium also provides a catered-events security crew for after-hours gatherings--the aquarium is rented out in the evenings to private groups. "The building closes at 5:00. and visitors have until 7:00 to tour. Then we do a sweep of the building and make sure everyone's out," says Tudor. Following a transition period when the public is leaving and the party guests are coming in, the events crew takes over.

"PREVENT" IS A KEY WORD IN EVERY aquarium security employee's vocabulary. "We like to think we can react to problems before they occur," Tudor remarks. "It's more important to predict a potential problem and plan ways to avoid it than to wait for a problem to happen and then decide how to handle it."

One potential threat comes from disgruntled employees, especially when they have knowledge of the pump room. That room constitutes the inner workings of the aquarium and the life support system for the animals. An animal can survive for only about 12 hours without the system.

"With 200 employees and 500 volunteers, naturally we have turnover," says Tudor. A terminated employee is not allowed in the building except as a paying customer, and problems can arise because a lot of staff members are known by face but not by name. So when an employee is terminated, security circulates what it calls a "wanted poster" consisting of the former employee's photo and a statement that he or she should not be in the building. "This is done simply to let security staff know which former employees they should be especially aware of," adds Tudor.

Animal rights groups pose another threat. "They protest on occasion," says Tudor, "and that's their right. They get a permit, and they protest the aquarium's housing of marine mammals." He also notes that once these people come inside the facility they realize the animals are well cared for. The animal rights protesters don't usually threaten the animals or people, and the aquarium has never received a direct threat. Still, "You always have to be concerned about an extremist or a radical. There's always that possibility, and we have to plan for those things," says Tudor.

Currently there are only a few aquariums nationwide, but Tudor notes that many more are being built--in Tampa, Camden, NJ, and Chattanooga, for example--and as the number increases so will threats from animal rights groups. One of their main concerns is the taking of dolphins from the wild. The governor of Florida took issue with the aquarium last year when two dolphins were captured in the Tampa Bay area by aquarium personnel. One died because it was ill when it was captured. The other is still in Florida, and the aquarium must apply for a transport permit from the Florida government to bring it to Baltimore.

The aquarium's concern in this situation is the increased threat from animal rights groups, which focus on such events and use them to gain media attention. And if the dolphin is ever brought to Baltimore, the aquarium is concerned that the attention and the threats will follow.

The unrest over animal rights even extended to construction workers on the Marine Mammal Pavilion--"save the whales" and other graffiti were scrawled on the walls throughout construction. Additional concerns arose over labor unrest in some of the unions. At one point, someone even drilled a hole in one of the acrylic windows--the world's largest-rsurrounding the mammal pool. The windows provide underwater viewing of the Atlantic bottlenose dolphins and beluga whales. Although the culprit was never caught, it was believed to be someone involved in the construction. Tudor feels that if an animal rights group had done such a thing it would have claimed responsibility.

Security during construction of the pavilion was handled by an outside company at first, and it was totally inadequate, according to Tudor. "Every time something happened we grew increasingly concerned because we'd have another month or two delay in completing the project," he says. The aquarium was scheduled to take over security when construction was complete, in December 1990, but with each incident concern escalated, and the security takeover date was moved up to August. "It was a lot sooner than we anticipated, and it required quick planning and staffing," Tudor remembers. Because the pavilion is so accessible by water, a fence was built around the entire pier on which the pavilion is located to help reduce the possibility of vandalism during construction.

TUDOR NOTES THAT THE AQUARIUM'S location leaves something to be desired after darkness falls. "The other side of the harbor is well lit with shops and restaurants," he says. "But where we are it can get very dark at night." One of his night security officers who has been with the aquarium for three years has found four dead bodies floating in the water surrounding piers three and four. And once, a drunken sailor from one of the ships in the harbor decided to go for a swim in the seal pool, a year-round, outdoor exhibit that is free and open to the public. The Baltimore Inner Harbor police cooperate fully with the aquarium and provide routine patrols, especially during peak times and after hours. Tudor says the local emergency authorities are always willing to assist when needed.

Because of the wide variety of potential threats and its unique location, the aquarium has contingency plans for any imaginable crisis, including flooding of the harbor. Fortunately, it has never faced a crisis of such magnitude, but Tudor stresses the staff would be ready if one occurred. Unfortunately, little could be done to save the animals if flooding were to occur; another facility would have to be prepared to accept them and there isn't such a facility in the area. They could be moved from one building to another, but if both buildings had to be abandoned nothing could be done.

Hopefully that drastic scenario will never become reality. On a daily basis, though, the security staff deals with any number of minor crises. For instance, Tudor says that his staff works like clockwork in the event of a medical emergency, such as a heart attack or stroke. "Because of the types of visitors we get--a lot of children and elderly individuals--the potential for emergencies is high," he says. Every detail is planned for these occurrences, right down to clearing the drive for the ambulance.

VIP visits could be another security nightmare, but they are such a regular occurrence that they don't faze security one bit. On two recent successive weekends two of President Bush's children brought their families to the aquarium, and congressmen and other dignitaries are frequent visitors. "They usually don't disrupt anything," Tudor comments. "We'll provide an escort if the Secret Service is not with them, but other than that it's business as usual." The plans stop at closing the building for a visiting VIP--"It's not fair to the people who come from far away and plan their vacations around us," he says.

No, catastrophes are not the order of the day here. Medical emergencies, an occasional protest group, or a disgruntled employee are the main concerns for Tudor and his staff. But you had better believe they like it that way; after all, prevention is the name of the game in security.

Future plans for the aquarium include developing its new animal care and research complex in the Marine Mammal Pavilion, which will be one of the most advanced aquatic animal care centers in the world. The facility gives the aquarium an expanded role in the Marine Mammal Stranding Network, which rescues and rehabilitates stranded marine mammals such as whales, dolphins, and seals. And although adding a research complex could increase the number of animal rights protests and threats, Tudor is confident his staff--and their aquatic coworkers--can weather any storm.
COPYRIGHT 1991 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:security management at the National Aquarium, Baltimore
Author:Cooney, Caroline M.
Publication:Security Management
Date:May 1, 1991
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