The Naval Academy blocked off a ring of parking lots around Bancroft Hall yesterday, creating a safety zone around the sprawling dormitory in response to new fears of terrorism.
The police barricades that went up yesterday form a 25-meter buffer around the building and will soon give way to permanent barriers and possibly locked gates, according to an electronic message to students and staff from the school's base operations officer.
The parking closures appear to be the first major security upgrade since Sept. 11, 2001, when the military college barred the public from driving onto campus and started asking visitors on foot for photo identification. The barricades are a sign that the academy views even lots restricted to midshipmen, faculty and staff as possible staging areas for car or truck bombs.
Bancroft Hall, the century-old Beaux Arts building that is the campus' architectural anchor, houses all 4,000 midshipmen, as well as the mess hall, student store, barber and tailor shops, a post office, and medical and dental offices.
As a symbol of U.S. military might, the academy is viewed as one of the more likely targets of terrorism in Maryland.
Lt. Cmdr. Pauline Storum, a Navy spokeswoman, said the Navy issued new security guidelines to bases worldwide after the Bush administration raised the nation's terror alert level Friday from "elevated risk" to "high risk," warning of possible attacks by al-Qaida on U.S. targets at home and abroad.
The academy's parking restrictions appear to be a response to those general guidelines, rather than any specific threat.
"Obviously, if you look at recent world events in the Middle East, most anything can be configured into a bomb," Storum said. "When you have fuel and some kind of ignition device, it doesn't take that much brain power to figure out what a car near a building could do."
Academy officials would not comment, saying that as a matter of policy they do not discuss internal security.
Others add precautions
Two other two military academies have also tightened security. The U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., continues to limit public access to its campus. On Saturday, the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., announced that access there was "now limited to official business until further notice."
In Maryland, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. responded to the heightened terror alert Friday by opening a 24-hour emergency communications center. Baltimore raised its alert status to the second-highest of four levels.
At the academy, the closures will scramble parking arrangements for midshipmen, faculty and staff, and medical and dental patients. Six lots around Bancroft Hall will be closed, according to the electronic message to "all hands" from Cmdr. Tom "Katz" McKavitt, the base operations officer.
A stretch of Brownson Road formerly reserved for student vehicles has been redesigned as a faculty and staff parking area. And students - only seniors can park on campus - will park at tennis courts near the dormitory.
Similar to airports
The parking buffer, similar in concept to those constructed around airports after the Sept. 11 attacks, is a reasonable reaction to the recent intelligence of a higher risk of terrorist attack, said Richard Alu, a security consultant in Annapolis and former FBI counterterrorism supervisor. Explosives-laden vehicles were used in two of the best-known acts of domestic terrorism - on the World Trade Center in 1993, and in Oklahoma City in 1995.
Alu said that it is conceivable that a determined terrorist could forge the Department of Defense stickers that the academy's guards look for before waving in vehicles. "The assumption is somebody's going to get on - so what can we do further?" he said.