Texas Biomedical Research Institute is a leader among independent research institutes working exclusively on infectious diseases. Texas Biomed is discovering and sharing critical breakthroughs needed by scientists to help protect the global community from the threats of infectious diseases.  

As Director of Security & Emergency Preparedness, Pandemic Continuity Response Coordinator for Texas Biomedical Research Institute, how is Mark A. Hammargren, CPP®, securing people, assets and facilities, in order to allow researchers at the Institute to develop animal models, study the coronavirus and examine potential diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines to combat COVID-19?

"Specific to the COVID-19, we continually remind ourselves at Texas Biomed that the current situation is the very reason the Institute exists," Hammargren says. "This is a unique and trying time for the country and the world. The Institute’s very existence grew out of the desire to meet the challenges of such a time. And, our team is rallying to meet the needs of our scientific community in developing animal models, studying the virus and examining potential diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines to combat the new coronavirus. Scientists here have begun their own research, and we are working with collaborators worldwide to execute leading research into COVID-19. The Institute’s unique resources in the Southwest National Primate Research Center and its BSL-3 and BSL-4 laboratories position and enable our scientists to perform cutting-edge research in a regulated environment built specifically for diseases like this one."

Security magazine: What specifically are you doing to keep people, assets and the facility safe?

Hammargren: While our team is diving into the research, we are well aware we must take precautions for the safety of our staff and the community, which is why Texas Biomed activated its Pandemic Response Plan, closed its campus allowing only mission critical key and essential employees, contractors, and critical supply chain deliveries to access the campus. 

Designated as a Critical Infrastructure/Key Resource, Texas Biomed directed that only mission critical key and essential employees and contractors will work on campus. With the “Stay at Home – Work Safe” from Local, State and Federal declarations, Texas Biomed directed non-essential employees yet still critical to supporting our COVID-19 research, other critical infectious disease studies and our vital animal care to work remotely.  Transparent messaging to our employees has and continues to be essential by emphasizing the importance of each employee’s contribution to our mission success whether on the campus or working remotely. This has also created a level of employee trust and assurance that we care about everyone during this growing uncertainty about employment.

Security magazine: Have there been any changes to the operation of your SEOC?

Hammargren: Texas Biomed commissioned its 24/7 staffed Security and Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) in June 2017 to serve as a central command post for coordinating and managing emergency response communication efforts. The safety and security of all staff working in and supporting our biomedical research, our animal colonies, and our physical assets is critical to the organization. There have been no significant changes in SEOC standard operating procedures as our team of professional SEOC Desk Officers are responsible for:

  • Dispatch of security patrols and coordination with public sector first responders as necessary
  • Monitoring of integrated security, fire and critical infrastructure building automation alarms ensuring alarms are received and responded to timely and by the appropriate personnel
  • Centralized video surveillance monitoring, virtual security patrols and recording
  • Serving as the Institutes Emergency and Non-Emergency Call Center
  • Management of Mass Notification and Warning system which allows for emergency text and speaker alerts to all Texas Biomed employees in the event of a critical security breach or other emergencies
  • Other operational functions critical to the Institute’s mission include tracking, recording, reporting and auditing all potential emergency incidents.

The Texas Biomed security team comprises contract security officers who are tasked to manage access control to our 200-acre facility supported by onsite law enforcement officers from the San Antonio Police Department. Due to the nature of our infectious disease research in high containment laboratories, we have some very specific security mandates for patrols, access control, intrusion detection and alarm response. These required security actions will not change under any circumstance. Since we activated our Pandemic Response Plan and closed the campus to visitors with only mission critical key and essential employees and contractors, our security team has been able to stay primarily focused performing random security measures and continuous patrols. Under normal situations, our security team would be conducting up to 100 visitor escorts daily with the same level of staffing.

Security magazine: Have you learned any lessons to date about how you might handle future pandemics in terms of planning?

Hammargren:There will be many lessons learned and best practices that will need to be studied.  We are already seeing areas of improvement in how we manage business operations and continuity planning. As with many other critical infrastructure/key resource businesses especially in the public health sector and our business of biomedical research, we are prepared to provide a safe and secure work environment for our world-class infectious disease research.

Overall, Texas Biomedical Research Institute is a world leader in infectious disease research and is positioned extremely well to provide the highest level of security, emergency preparedness and business continuity in order for our scientific leaders to find a cure for COVID-19.