From Director Lia Merminga: Accessing Fermilab’s Batavia site

Public message from the Fermilab director on Fermilab access

Dear colleagues and friends of Fermilab,

Fermilab has a tradition of being open and welcoming to staff, users, the scientific community, and residents of surrounding communities. This is who we are, and we are proud of this culture of openness. We have focused on executing our science mission through partnerships and are committed to maintaining this collaborative spirit.

At the same time, we are responsible for the safety of everyone who spends time on the Fermilab campus, as well as the security of our operations. Fermilab operates the largest accelerator complex in the United States, and that work comes with potential hazards across our campus. Furthermore, we manage a large amount of non-public information, and we take the responsibility of protecting that information very seriously. Fermilab’s personnel and research collaborators undergo special training on these hazards and challenges.

To protect our workforce, users, visitors, and the laboratory’s assets, Fermilab has implemented several restrictions to access, which most other national laboratories have already successfully implemented. We recognize that some people are frustrated with these changes, and we are working to find the balance between the necessary restrictions and the openness we pride ourselves on. In this note, I will describe the challenges, what we are doing about them, and where we want to be in the future. What is put forward here represents complete alignment with DOE and the leadership of Fermilab.

Visitors and the public are welcome to come to the lab campus to walk, bike, walk your dog, see the bison or tour the Lederman Science Center with proper identification. Photo: Fermilab

DOE’s new requirements over the past decade and Fermilab’s actions

 Changes on the world stage and our continuously advancing science mission affect Fermilab’s safety and security posture. As a federal institution, Fermilab is required to implement federal regulations and U.S. Department of Energy requirements that have been established for all DOE National Laboratories. It is our responsibility to effectively integrate these risk management controls into our mission execution, and to communicate these new practices to our internal and external stakeholders. Like other similar labs, we want to strike a balance between safe and secure operations and a welcoming environment for our scientific and community partners.

For example, DOE has provided nearly $13 million of additional funding to facilitate site visitor access and reopen Wilson Hall to the public. The COVID-19 pandemic slowed these efforts, but we are on track to complete the Wilson Hall modifications this year and a new Fermilab Welcome and Access Center in late 2024 or early 2025.

Fermilab’s status today

Today, Fermilab is pleased to continue to welcome onto the Fermilab campus public visitors showing proper identification for site access. The Batavia and Warrenville gates are open for walkers, bikers, dog walkers, and visitors to enjoy the campus, visit our bison (we have 16 new babies so far this year!), tour the science experiments and displays in the Lederman Science Center, and hike our restored prairie trails. Earlier this year, Saturday Morning Physics and other STEM activities resumed in the Ramsey Auditorium. We invested into a new welcoming badging office at the entrance of the Wilson Hall and began critical work to improve the IT systems that support and streamline the new processes. The lab’s site access requirements can be found on the website.

Our vision for the future

DOE and Fermilab leadership are committed to facilitating public access to areas of Wilson Hall as soon as security modifications are complete. We are actively working to streamline how our collaborators, visitors, and the public can access our site in a safe and welcoming way, and to clearly and frequently provide updates. We are learning from other National Laboratories that have implemented these requirements over many years. We have also established an internal task force comprised of employees and users to expedite the implementation and strengthen the communication.  We are in the process of simplifying the collection of information needed for entry and increasing the transparency of the process. In the coming weeks and months, we will be seeking input on strategy and changes to ensure safe access for all groups, leveraging many of our existing forums including the Community Advisory Board and User Committees.

We are deeply committed to our culture of openness, and we are also deeply committed to the safety of our employees, subcontractors, users, affiliates, visitors, and neighbors and to the security and stewardship of the world-class facilities, infrastructure, and data at the lab.

Thank you for sharing your views with me – I hear you, and I ask you to please be patient as we work on these important improvements. The dedication and concerns openly expressed by the Fermilab community (including our employees, partners, and neighbors) are a good example of what makes Fermilab a truly remarkable institution.

With best regards,

Lia Merminga