The U.S. government has altered the way it protects America's founding documents to fit the grim realities of an age of terrorism.
Last September, the National Archives re-opened to the public after more than two years of renovations, which included the installation of a new security system designed to display, preserve and protect the original copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights ¡ª collectively referred to as the Charters of Freedom.
The classical vault-like Archives building on Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C., has displayed the Charters in a central Rotunda since 1951. In July of 2001, before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center, the building closed to the public for renovations.
Archive officials decided to close the display when preservationists noticed that the helium-filled cases designed to protect the documents from environmental stresses had begun to deteriorate. The goals of the original project were to restore the documents, to reseal them in new, more technologically advanced cases, and then return them to the Rotunda. According to Patrick Alexander, project manager for the National Archives, the new cases are filled with an inert gas and contain sensors to monitor changes in temperature and humidity inside the housings.
The events of Sept. 11 expanded the scope of the project to include the development of a comprehensive security system.
While Archives officials won't discuss the details of the new security design, Alexander will say that Tyco/ADT integrated several major new security technology subsystems. These include an access control system supplied by GE Interlogix/Casi, a Pelco closed circuit television (CCTV) system and a security center, which monitors the systems. In addition, Tyco/ADT managed the installation of metal detection and X-ray machines at each of the building's two entrances. Finally, the company integrated the intrusion protection technology connected to new advanced-technology vaults built to protect the Charters when not on public display.
The National Archives displays the Charters 364 days a year, closing only on Dec. 25. For nine months, the public can view the documents from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. During the three summer months, the documents remain on display until 9 p.m.
After hours, the document cases move on a conveyance system into high-security vaults. During the renovation, Canton, Ohio-based Diebold Inc. provided the Archives with new vaults. "Diebold provided us with vaults and a system to shuttle the document cases back and forth when they aren't on display," Alexander says. "But that's all I can say about it."
According to Diebold, the assignment included the design and construction of three high-security vaults: one for the Declaration, one for the Bill of Rights, and another one, the largest of the three, for the four pages of the Constitution. Security on the project is so tight that neither Archives officials nor Diebold executives will discuss the direction or the distance that the conveyance moves or where within the Archives building the vaults are located.
United Laboratories (UL) has established three classifications ¡ª Class I, II, and III ¡ª for high-security vaults. Class III vaults provide the highest security. Over the years, Diebold has constructed several hundred Class III vaults for various applications. "We have provided high-security vaults for Federal Reserve Banks, military bases, and mint houses for central banks in other countries," says Bart Frazzitta, vice president with the Diebold security division.
While many Diebold high-security vaults meet Class III specifications, vaults designed to provide the highest possible security far exceed the UL definition of Class III security, Frazzitta says.
Generally, vaults are larger than safes, large enough for a person to walk inside. Moreover, all high-security vaults today are constructed of reinforced concrete instead of metal as might be expected. Even vault doors are made of concrete. "Doors used to be made of steel, but we moved from steel to concrete in the 1980s," Frazzitta says. "The reason is that you can burn through steel more easily than concrete. In addition, vaults made of monolithic materials have proven to be stronger. We still cover the doors with stainless steel so the vaults resemble what people are familiar with."
Is that true of the vaults protecting America's Charters of Freedom?
"No comment," says Frazzitta.
Unfortunately, it is probably best not to discuss it.