Boulder redux? Robb v. terrorists at jail

In these perilous times, when risk assessments of buildings are almost routine, Albemarle Sheriff Ed Robb's recent evaluation of the local jail has turned some heads. Robb's suggested improvements, intended to thwart terrorists and other intruders, included $40,000 for a camouflaged perimeter barrier and $20,000 for surveillance cameras.

Robb's proposals– revealed in a June 14 story in the Daily Progress– raised some eyebrows and some hackles.

"It's a total waste of money," scolds Albemarle photographer Rey Barry, who penned a letter to the Progress outlining his dismay. "There are 3,100 local and regional jails in the United States," he says. "It's absurd to think that terrorists would target this one."

Robb replies that he made his safety recommendations with more than terrorism threats in mind.

"I was commissioned by the jail board to do a security and risk assessment– including terrorism," he says, "but including a lot of other things as well."

Furthermore, he adds, his recommendations have no weight without jail board approval.

"The suggestions I made were only my suggestions, and I think the people criticizing them are right to criticize," he says enigmatically. "I wouldn't want to spend any money, either. Their opinions are noted and noteworthy."

Robb claims that terrorism was thought to be a risk before 9/11 and has always been a consideration in risk assessment around here.

"Obviously attention's heightened now," he says. "We can't deny that 9/11 has changed this nation's way of thought."

In fact, Robb's proposals are only part of a recent rash of local attempts to flummox terrorists. Last August, in another controversial move, Albemarle County spent $5,000 on boulders to protect its office building downtown– before concluding the big rocks didn't work and replacing them with $20,000 concrete planters. Not wanting to be left out of anti-terrorist craze, UVA holds a "clinical connections disaster training" course Friday, June 24, to prepare third-year medical students for disaster situations.

"The federal law enforcement community has taken notice of terrorism," says Robb. "So has the state. Now it's up to Charlottesville citizens to decide how much they want to do locally."

Ed Robb