CORAL GABLES, FL — Self-contained mailrooms with ventilation systems that prevent mailroom airborne agents from being circulated throughout the building and “vertical submarine” influenced structures that effectively seal off building sections from each other in the event of terrorism and other major safety concerns were among several topics reviewed in the first of a continuing series of post-Sept. 11 security-design forums organized by Spillis Candela DMJM, one of the country’s leading architectural firms.

In its first session, held here recently, representatives from York International Corporation joined Spillis Candela DMJM for a discussion on the technology and know-how to make buildings safer in an environment potentially threatened by chemical and biological hazards. Both companies contend that this technology already exists. As part of their ongoing initiative to anticipate trends, they advise that building owners make efforts to retrofit and embrace new building designs.

Several efforts have been underway to address security design issues for some time, according to Hilario Candela, president, Spillis Candela DMJM.

“We envision our joint initiative with building industry vendors will allow safety solutions to be implemented in the workplace as well as residences,” he said. “Many of the recommendations that we are reviewing can be made right now at extremely modest costs when factoring in the benefit of preserving lives.”


Architectural design remains amorphous, continually being shaped by art, politics, the environment, the economy, and ideology. As officials continue to define possible threats to a variety of structures, Spillis Candela DMJM and York anticipate that their proactive design safety recommendations can decrease the impact on building occupants in the case of unfortunate events.

“While no building can be 100% safe, there are steps that building designers, engineers, and owners can take to minimize potential risks,” said Terry Sutherland, director, Systems Application, Engineered Systems, York International Corporation. “A critical step in this process is taking a look at where buildings are most vulnerable. The hvac systems are the lungs of a building and are of particular concern.”

“In the post-Sept. 11 world, our recommendations can be seen as part of the cost of conducting business,” said Candela. “After Hurricane Andrew, Miami-Dade County implemented several changes to building codes to make structures safer. Self-imposed industry responses today can effectively impact the political will of officials who have the foresight to legislate changes tomorrow.”

Added Ronald Hunt, P.E., principal, Spillis Candela DMJM, “In South Florida alone, millions of people live in high-rise condominium and apartment buildings. Con-dominium associations and building management organizations should evaluate what recommendations can be implemented as post-Sept. 11 security initiatives.”

It was important for forum participants to review building design and evaluate the level of risk based on a building’s function before making safety recommendations. Factors determining risk include building stature or prominence, usage, occupants, and location.


Spillis Candela and York grouped buildings into three risk categories: high, medium, and low. High-risk buildings can include government buildings, airports, sports venues, schools, or attractions. Medium-risk facilities include shopping malls and high-rise condominiums. Single-family homes and small businesses fall into the low-risk group.

At the forum, recommendations that can be adapted or applied to existing structures were given. In the high- to medium-risk buildings, some of the recommendations included:

  • Install alarms or motion-detection sensors around outside air intake systems. All commercial buildings in the United States are required to have a mechanism for generating the flow of fresh air inside the building. These intake points need to be as inaccessible as possible and monitored and secured to prevent contamination from chemical or biological agents.
  • Replace the filtration systems on air conditioning units, allowing filters to trap the tiniest of spores before getting into air ducts. Install special ultraviolet lights that can kill the bacteria.
  • Install “scrubbers” that eradicate biological and chemical hazards from air ducts.
  • Create separate access points to mechanical rooms in buildings by constructing separate stairwells and devise a security system for them.
  • Place alarms on mechanical room doors.
  • Design “refuge floors” in high-rises that allow for “bunker- like” safe havens.
  • Design “vertical submarine” buildings that seal off building sections from each other in the event of catastrophes such as structural collapse or contamination.
  • Incorporate techniques in airflow already used in hospitals to cordon off mailroom air circulation from reaching other parts of an office building.
  • One of the recommendations for low-risk buildings included the construction of outside air-intake systems equipped with special filters, ultraviolet lights, and scrubbers to disarm biological agents before they enter ducts of a home or small-business office.

    “We hope that these recommendations motivate those in the architectural design industry and representatives including contractors, equipment manufacturers and developers to work together to re-examine building safety measures,” said Roy Hubbard, Jr., manager, Marketing Development, Eng-ineered Systems Group, York.

    Publication date: 12/17/2001