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.
“These guidelines offer practical advice to building owners, managers and maintenance staffs on the steps they can take to protect their ventilation systems,” said 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 full document, Guidance for Protecting Building Environments From Airborne Chemical, Biological, or Radiological Attacks, as well as information about this and other pertinent resources can be accessed via EPA’s Indoor Environments Division page, Homeland Security and the Indoor Environment, at EPA Homeland Security.
In January, the Office of Homeland Security (OHS) formed the Interagency Workgroup on Building Air Protection with includes representatives from agencies across the federal government. EPA is the Executive Secretariat of this workgroup which is chaired by OHS. One of the first tasks of the workgroup was to produce guidance to building owners and managers that would contain a set of recommendations they could implement now to better protect the indoor environments of their buildings from terrorist threats. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), in close collaboration with workgroup members, took on the task of drafting the document.
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.
Some of the specific recommendations include:
- Do Not Permanently Seal Outdoor Air Intakes. Buildings require a steady supply of outdoor air appropriate to their occupancy and function. This supply should be maintained during normal building operations. Closing off the outdoor air supply vents will adversely affect the building occupants and likely result in a decrease in indoor environmental quality and an increase in indoor environmental quality complaints.
- Do Not Modify The HVAC System Without First Understanding The Effects On The Building Systems Or Occupants. This caution directly relates to the recommendation that building owners and managers should understand the operation of their building systems. If there is uncertainty about the effects of a proposed modification, a qualified professional should be consulted.
- Do Not Interfere With Fire Protection And Life Safety Systems. These systems provide protection in the event of fire or other types of events. They should not be altered without guidance from a professional specifically qualified in fire protection and life safety systems.