Friday, October 14, 2005

Officials at Utah Dispute Details of ABC Report

In Utah, officials at the University of Utah are challenging the reporting by ABC News interns that asserted that the school's test and research reactor was a security risk. The following comes from the Deseret Morning News:

Last June two female student interns with ABC were given a guided tour of the U.'s Merrill Engineering Building and the reactor, where about 1,000 people reportedly have visited this year.

ABC apparently told a different story.

"They are telling people there was a gaping hole in our security, which there was not," said Melinda Krahenbuhl, director of the U. nuclear engineering program. "The security plan worked — they (the students) were escorted at all times."

Krahenbuhl said security checks were run on the two students and that they were asked to leave their backpacks outside the reactor and its control room.
According to the ABC report:
"Very poor risk management," said Ronald E. Timm, a veteran security consultant who has analyzed the vulnerability of the nation's nuclear laboratories for the Department of Energy. The facility, which was considered enough of a risk to be shut down during the 2002 Winter Olympics, could still be a target, Timm said.
But according to the Deseret News:
ABC's coverage also reported the U. shut down its reactor for security reasons during the 2002 Winter Olympics here.

"The university was closed — there was nobody here," Krahenbuhl said.

A "shutdown" implies that the U. reactor was requested to be decommissioned, "and that's not true," she added. The U. was being "proactive," she said, by going into a "sub-critical configuration," which means the reactor cannot sustain power.
Sounds like the sort of innocent mistake somebody could make if they didn't have a background in nuclear engineering. Of course, most of us don't get the chance to broadcast that misinformation on national television. Here's more from the ABC report:

Security Observations: No guards. No metal detectors. Tours available. No background check. Names and addresses given, but no IDs requested. Bags had to be left in office. Surveillance camera in hallway.

What We Found: A tour scheduled one week in advance gave access to the reactor pool and control room. Fellows were able to bring cameras on tour. On a return visit at about 12:30 a.m., a basement entrance to the building was unlocked. A security camera was located in a hallway leading to the reactor room, but the Fellows were able to videotape in the hallway at night unchallenged. The door to the reactor facility was locked.
But the folks at Utah aren't buying it:
She (Krahenbuhl) said the ABC interns did, in fact, walk unescorted into the U. engineering building at night, like many graduate students do, but that they did not get through four locked doors to access the reactor by themselves. Krahenbuhl said U. officials were aware the students, Traci Curry and Michelle Rabinowitz, were in the building.

But ABC, she said, has been getting its facts wrong, despite her attempts to set an ABC producer in New York straight during an August phone call. That producer, Maddie Sauer, was unavailable for comment.

"She didn't include any of the facts," Krahenbuhl said. "I think ABC's national news is being irresponsible."

She said it's appalling to teach students that it's OK to air "unethical" and inaccurate reporting for the sake of a "sensationalized" story.
For more, check out a story from KSL-AM in Salt Lake City. We're finding this sort of inconsistency is pretty typical of the reporting involved, as the interns have omitted critical details about their visits that make it look like security was lapse and slipshod, including the fact that while visiting the reactor at Ohio State, university officials threw the two interns out of the reactor building when they started asking too many questions about security.

I wonder what other details they got wrong?

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1 comment:

Matthew66 said...

Given the number of assaults that take place on university campuses each year, I am surprised that organizations such as ABC and Carnegie would permit two young women to wander any university campus at 12.30 a.m. I am sure that the University of Utah is as safe a campus as you'd find anywhere in the US, but I wouldn't wander around it at night, and I'm a largish man in my late 30's.

ABC and Carnegie should be thanking their lucky stars that none of the Carnegie Fellows were assaulted. That would be a big ole lawsuit waiting to happen. Workman's compensation, negligence, you name it.