Building Security: First Line of Defense

November 2, 2001
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Proper security measures for mechanical rooms can prevent sabotage.


While industry experts from well-known organizations, such as the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) and Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) Inter-national, formulate plans to deal with bioterrorism inside buildings and other structures, individuals and companies are working on ways to stop bioterrorism before it has a chance to spread — by tightening building security.

“I don’t think buildings have been tightened up enough, contrary to news reports,” said Larry Schoen of Schoen Engineering, Inc., Columbia, MD. “It may take a few more terrorist attacks until people realize how vulnerable they are.”

Are security measures in place, and are they enough? It will take training and education to learn how to stop terrorists before they start, according to sources interviewed by The News.



IT STARTS ON THE OUTSIDE

Making the indoor environment safe for building occupants is a health issue. Making the building safe from outside infiltration is a security issue. The hvacr industry can offer customers valuable advice on securing their buildings.

“If I had a large building with many air inlets, I’d install video cameras and a fence around the mechanical systems,” said Charlie Seyffer, U.S. market manager for Camfil Farr, El Segundo, CA. “I certainly would want to secure the mechanical systems.”

Schoen also offered advice on building security measures. “Building operators can take these steps to protect occupants:

  • “Improve basic entry security, including the outside air entry points, by using people, locks, and cameras.
  • “Secure ventilation systems, including the network of supply and return ductwork.
  • “Improve the filtration so it approaches the maximum that the existing ventilation systems can accommodate.
  • “Put in place emergency plans that include the building operating engineers.”
  • He concluded, “Only for the long term, consider expensive upgrades for those buildings that are targets for terrorists.”

    David Williams of Harwood International, Dallas, TX, listed some measures that his building management company has taken.

    “We have looked at everything,” he said. “We’ve added additional cameras and monitoring devices, we’ve revamped our security room, and we’ve added motion detectors.”

    Williams said outside security has been beefed up, too. “We’ve locked down our parking garages so that they are card-access only. Pedestrians can no longer walk into the garage. And we have increased our security patrols. We don’t want to limit ingress and egress for our tenants, but we have to strike a fair balance.”



    Experts recommend escorting maintenance personnel to rooftop units.

    LIMITING ACCESS

    Most of the people contacted by The News agree that building owners and managers need to step up their screening processes for contractors and subcontractors working in their buildings. Many management companies employ their own maintenance staffs for routine service. But when major remodeling or retrofits are needed, the companies contracted to do the work should be scrutinized thoroughly.

    “We’re fortunate to have a good, longstanding working relationship with local contractors,” Williams said. “It’s better than working with companies that change employees all of the time.”

    Forrest Fencl, president of Steril-Aire, Cerrito, CA, suggested that service techs need a little extra attention. “Have escorted access to mechanical rooms and rooftop units,” he recommended.

    “There is nothing wrong with checking a guy’s toolbox, either.”

    Fencl’s company also publishes recommendations to building owners, operators, and engineers. Here is a partial list of the recommendations.

    “If one is in a high-risk area in a high-profile, multistory building, it might be wise to shut down accessible outdoor intakes on the first two floors. It might also be a good idea to put locks on all access doors and/or change locks on the mechanical rooms and keep them locked at all times.

    “If the building is equipped with an automated control system, building operators may want to alarm many of the functions they would consider unusual to have sudden change. If large return air registers are accessible in any way, they should be guarded.”

    “Obviously there are ways to control and limit access to fresh air intakes and returns,” stated Richard Almini of Encompass Services, Oakland, CA. “This needs to be evaluated for our customer base.”

    “Everybody today has a control system,” said Fencl. “With just a few dollars, you can do something — shut the air handler, send an alert that an unauthorized person is in the mechanical room.”

    Speaking of control systems, Almini gave an example of what one Encompass employee, Eric Penn of Encompass Facility Services in San Leandro, CA, recommends for changing a building control system during “emergency functions.”

    Penn said, “Shut down all hvac systems. Open all outside air dampers and close all return air dampers (100% outside air mode), or open all return air dampers and close all outside air dampers (recirculation mode).

    “This will allow [the chief engineer] to perform what he determines to be the necessary action at the time of occurrence — from his building, his home, or anywhere there is a phone, with or without a computer.”



    COLLECTIVE REASONING

    Schoen quoted some security measures that were recently discussed during a teleconference between the International Coun-cil of Shopping Centers, the FBI, and the Office of Homeland Security.

    “Some measures discussed were checking cars parked close to buildings or parked overnight, and asking police to check suspicious vehicles; tightening access to mechanical rooms; requiring truck manifest documents; adding physical obstructions to building entrances; better screening of contractors; and checking on open dumpsters,” Schoen said.

    Almini said that his company has made certain recommendations:

  • “Protection for all intakes;
  • “Pressurized air locks at all entrances;
  • “Protection of all building water supplies and restricted access to water meter and tanks; and
  • “Systematic inspection of all water tanks and underground storages.”
  • The security issue will be explored on a wider scale at one industry forum in 2002. A “Security Seminar” is being publicized at the Facility Forum 2002 Conference website (www.facilityforum.com), which has information about its April 2002 forum in San Diego, CA

    Fencl recommended that building owners and managers should seek out security solutions with controls’ manufacturers.

    “Work with controls security system manufacturers,” he said. “Can the hvac and mechanical equipment be tied into the electronic security system? For example, can building security be notified if an unauthorized person starts tampering with the air handlers?”

    These questions will be facing hvacr contractors and their customers in the coming months, and experts agree that the industry should lead the way in the search for solutions.



    Sidebar: Searching Out Anthrax

    WASHINGTON, DC — The U.S. government’s effort to contain anthrax contamination has spread beyond federal buildings and the DC area, to include private businesses elsewhere. The ongoing investigation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified several mail-handling employees with inhalation anthrax, from the U.S. Postal Service’s Brentwood distribution center and a Department of State mailroom facility.

    Environmental sampling has also revealed contamination in mailrooms serving the Central Intelligence Agency, House of Representatives, Senate, Supreme Court, Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, the White House, and in the Southwest Postal Station. No cases of anthrax have been reported among customers who entered any U.S. postal facility. However, the CDC also reports that health authorities in the Metropolitan Washington area, based on the Postal Service’s mail flow, “recommend prophylaxis (treatment) for all personnel who have worked, since October 11, 2001, in the nonpublic, mail operations areas at any postal facility or unique private mailroom that receives incoming mail directly from the Brentwood facility.”

    While these mailrooms may remain open, the CDC noted, “Their employees should immediately receive 10 days of prophylaxis.”

    Sidebar: ASHRAE To Study Building Safety

    ATLANTA, GA — In the wake of the recent terrorist attacks, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) is planning to come out with recommendations on how to increase building safety.

    “Following the events of Sept. 11, we need to take all steps possible to ensure that America’s buildings remain safe, as well as healthy and comfortable,” said William J. Coad, P.E., ASHRAE president. “We are committed to ensuring the safety of people inside these buildings.”

    The Presidential Study Group on Health and Safety Under Extraordinary Incidents will study incidents such as attack from high-impact explosives, incendiary missiles, and internal incendiary devices, as well as chemical, biological, and radiological contamination. While the group will focus on hvac systems, Coad said these systems are integrated with all building systems, which also will be included in this comprehensive study.

    “I have asked the group to study what steps can be taken to improve the health and safety of existing buildings,” Coad said. “Members will look at retrofit programs that could be implemented to improve health and safety in existing buildings and what design features could be incorporated in new buildings to improve health and safety.” The group will address all aspects of health and safety, except structural integrity and security protection. These include materials; egress; chemical, biological, and radiological protection; fire extinguishing; smoke removal or purging; filtration; maintenance of comfort and air quality; entrance paths for contaminants; building envelopes; and water supplies.

    This will be the first study to encompass all of these aspects in one report, according to Coad. He has asked the group to present a final report at ASHRAE’s 2002 Winter Meeting in Atlantic City, NJ, Jan. 12-16. Members of the group include scientists and engineers who will examine all aspects of health and safety in the built environment.

    Publication date: 11/05/2001

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