This is one of several interviews in a series about the changes we can expect at the Lab during 2024.

When he’s not rooting with his 7-year-old son for the San Francisco 49ers to win Super Bowl LVIII, Security and Emergency Services Division Director David von Damm is busy plotting the safest course for Berkeley Lab. Many of the projects SES has in store for 2024 include not only keeping the Lab secure but also maintaining business continuity in the face of a potential crisis.

Learn more about the security and emergency management projects that will impact the Lab in 2024.


What are the major projects of the Security and Emergency Services Division for 2024, and how do these projects advance the Lab’s research mission? What projects are you most excited about?

One of the things that we’re doing more than ever before is increasing the amount of collaboration with our first responders. We’re building off the exercises from last year – including a low-angle rescue training at various challenging geographical locations at the Lab and another where responders were able to practice advanced rescue techniques using specialized tools on Building 54 before it was demolished – we’ll be doing even more exercises in 2024 with the primary response organizations we work with, the Alameda County Fire Dept., Berkeley Fire Dept., UC Police Dept., and Berkeley Police Dept.

Just last month, we facilitated an active threat response exercise with Berkeley PD, and later this year, we’re doing rescue task force training, which is specialized joint training for both firefighters and police officers who respond to active threats. Fire-rescue personnel, in particular, need to practice how to get to the injured at a scene safely. 

Another thing we’re doing is building walkthroughs of our user facilities and some of our major research areas to familiarize all the Alameda County Fire crews with the Lab. 

These training opportunities are really a huge benefit because they increase the firefighters’ knowledge of Lab geography and our mission.

Another thing we’re doing is the Community Preparedness Framework, and there are many elements to that, but the main focus this year is reevaluating all the Lab’s emergency assembly areas (EAAs) to make sure they’re as safe as possible. We’re also leveraging technology better by including QR codes on signs so people can check into an EAA on their mobile phones.

Another very visible project that I’m excited about is the vegetation management and wildfire mitigation projects we are doing in partnership with the University of California. That project, which will focus on tree thinning and promoting the growth of indigenous trees and vegetation, will begin in late spring and is funded by a $2.9 million CalFire grant. It’s a great collaboration with UC and will have a lasting, positive impact on the Lab for years to come.


How does SES partner with research on large and small projects?

There are a few reasons SES partners with both EHS (Environment, Health, and Safety Division) and researchers who use hazardous chemicals. First, we’re required to assess these materials to see if they need to be included in our emergency planning efforts. And, we have requirements to provide extra physical protections for some of these chemicals that have high consequences if released. 

Last year, we discovered a hazardous chemical in a laboratory that we thought had been removed from the site. So, we did an investigation that led to a three-month hazardous chemical audit we completed last December. For the audit, SES partnered with 13 of our 21 research divisions to perform walk-downs to establish if the chemical was accurately characterized in the Chemical Management System, procured properly, and received proper protection. Overall, we completed the effort of finding just one chemical out of compliance but also walked away with a host of lessons learned to improve our programs. I’m really proud of that effort and very appreciative of the cooperation and collaboration with the division safety coordinators and researchers we worked with. 

And although that particular audit is done, good chemical management is never done. It’s an ongoing process. When we procure new chemicals or when chemicals are no longer needed, established processes, procedures, and approvals need to be adhered to, and the CMS needs to be updated. It’s a total team effort for SES, EHS, and the researchers we work with. 

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? What do you enjoy doing when you’re not leading SES?

Right now, my focus outside work is the San Francisco 49ers winning the Super Bowl and taking care of this little guy, my 7-year-old son Jackman!