WASHINGTON, DC — The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has released new guidelines for protecting ventilation systems in commercial and government buildings from chemical, biological, and radiological attacks. The guidelines provide recommendations on the physical security of ventilation systems, airflow and filtration, systems maintenance, program administration, and maintenance staff training.

“These guidelines offer practical advice to building owners, managers, and maintenance staffs on the steps they can take to protect their ventilation systems,” stated HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson. “This new guidance is an example of the many steps we have taken since last fall’s terrorist attacks to strengthen our capabilities to protect public health.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) prepared the guidelines with input and review by the Office of Homeland Security’s (OHS’s) Interagency Workgroup on Building Air Protection and more than 30 other federal agencies, state and local organizations, and professional associations.

“This guidance offers reasonable and practical measures to reduce the likelihood of a contaminant attack and to minimize the impact if one occurs,” OHS Director Tom Ridge said. “This effort demonstrates how the federal government and the private sector can work together to make our nation more secure.”

The guidelines recommend that security measures be adopted for air intakes and return-air grilles, and that access to building operations systems and building design information should be restricted. Also recommended is that the emergency capabilities of operational controls should be assessed, filter efficiency should be evaluated, buildings’ emergency plans should be updated, and preventive maintenance procedures should be adopted. The document also cautions against detrimental actions, such as permanently sealing outdoor air intakes.

Protective measures should be tailored to fit the individual building based on several factors, the guidelines say, including the perceived risk associated with the building, engineering and architectural feasibility, and cost.

“Guidance for Protecting Building Environments from Airborne Chemical, Biological, or Radiological Attacks,” DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2002-139, is available on the NIOSH website at www.cdc.gov/niosh. Copies can also be obtained by calling 800-356-4674.

Publication date: 05/13/2002