HHS urges safeguarding of ventilation systems

More help is available for managers trying to revamp their emergency preparedness plans in light of potential terrorist attacks. The 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 that address the physical security of ventilation systems, airflow and filtration, systems maintenance, program administration, and maintenance staff training. In announcing the release of the guidelines, HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said the guidelines offer "practical advice to building owners, managers and maintenance staffs on the steps they can take to protect their ventilation systems."

Tailor measures to fit building

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) prepared the guidelines with input and review by the Office of Homeland Security’s (OHS) Interagency Workgroup on Building Air Protection and more than 30 other federal agencies, state and local organizations, and professional associations. OHS Director Tom Ridge announced that the guidance "offers reasonable and practical measures to reduce the likelihood of a contaminant attack and to minimize the impact if one occurs."

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.

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. "Guidance for Protecting Building Environments from Airborne Chemical, Biological, or Radiological Attacks," DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2002-139, is available on the NIOSH Web page at www.cdc.gov/niosh. Copies also can be obtained by calling the NIOSH toll-free information number, (800) 35-NIOSH (800-356-4674).