In January, the Office of Homeland Security (OHS) formed the Interagency Workgroup on Building Air Protection, which included representatives from more than 30 agencies across the federal government. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the executive secretariat of this work group, which is chaired by OHS.

One of the first tasks of the group was to produce a set of recommendations for building owners, managers, and contractors designed to help them better protect the indoor environments of buildings from terrorist threats. The gathering of information was in its early stages when the National Hvacr Security Summit, co-sponsored by The News and the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), was held in Baltimore on Jan. 26.

Well, nearly four months later, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), in close collaboration with the Workgroup members, has come through with its “Guidance for Protecting Building Environments from Airborne Chemical, Biological, or Radiological Attacks.” The guidelines provide recommendations that address the physical security of ventilation systems, airflow and filtration, systems maintenance, program administration, and maintenance staff training.


The guidelines are intended as a first step with the professional community, government agencies, and others toward developing more comprehensive guidance for protecting building ventilation systems. 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.

The information also recommends that the emergency capabilities of systems’ operational controls should be assessed, filter efficiency should be closely 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, modifying the hvac system without first understanding the effects on the building systems or the occupants, and interfering with the fire protection and life safety systems. While this may sound obvious to contractors, building owners are not necessarily up to speed on these issues.

“Some efforts to protect the building from a chemical, biological, or radiological (CBR) attack could have adverse effects on the building’s indoor environmental quality,” the report states. “Building owners and managers should understand how the building systems operate and assess the impact of security measures on those systems.”

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

“This guidance offers reasonable and practical measures to reduce the likelihood of a contaminant attack and to minimize the impact if one occurs,” said OHS Director Tom Ridge.

To examine the entire report, go to NIOSH’s Web page, Copies can also be obtained by calling the NIOSH toll-free information number, 800-356-4674. Ask for DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2002-139.


This report comes on the heels of an audio seminar, “Hvac Security,” put on May 17 by the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA). The program included information on determining the potential for release of toxic chemicals into an air-handling system and offered simple, cost-effective measures that can be taken immediately to lessen the harmful effects of such an event.

Panelists for the program included Gary Luepke, principal system engineer, The Trane Company; Joe Szabo, Sr., director of operations, Rockefeller Center; and several NIOSH representatives. This was the third of four audio seminars put on by BOMA, delivered via telephone to eliminate travel expenses and time away from the office. The final seminar, “Premises Security,” is scheduled for May 31. There is a registration fee involved. For additional information or to register, call BOMA’s Education Hot Line at 202-326-6331 or register online at

Remember: information is power. The more we are prepared, the better off we will all be. This is a subject that should never be taken lightly.

Skaer is editor-in-chief. He can be reached at 248-244-6446; 248-362-0317 (fax); (e-mail).

Publication date: 05/20/2002