Protecting Building Environments from Airborne Chemical, Biologic, or Radiologic Attacks

Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 2002;51(35) 


In November 2001, following the discovery that letters containing Bacillus anthracis had been mailed to targeted locations in the United States, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services requested site assessments of an array of public- and private-sector buildings by a team of engineers and scientists from CDC's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). In November 2001, this team assessed six buildings, including a large hospital and medical research facility, a museum, a transportation building, two large office buildings, and an office/laboratory building. In January 2002, additional building assessments were conducted at CDC campuses in Atlanta and, in April 2002, at a large, urban transportation facility. A total of 59 buildings were evaluated during this 5-month period.

The primary goal of these assessments was to determine the vulnerability of building air environments, including heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems, to a terrorist attack with chemical, biologic, and radiologic (CBR) agents and to develop cost-effective prevention and control strategies. At each facility, CDC investigators performed onsite evaluations to assess the building's vulnerability to CBR attack from internal and external sources. The investigators also reviewed security and safety plans at each facility. Facility owners received confidential reports identifying observed vulnerabilities and possible remedial options. Collectively, the field observations and prevention recommendations from the building assessments were combined with input from government and industry experts to identify general guidance that encourages building owners, facility managers, and engineers to review design, operational, and security procedures at their own facilities.

The recommendations include measures that can transform buildings into less attractive targets by increasing the difficulty of introducing a CBR agent, increasing the ability to detect terrorists before they carry out an intended release, and incorporating plans and procedures to mitigate the effects of a CBR release. These recommendations are presented in the recently completed NIOSH guidelines,[1] which address physical security, airflow and filtration, maintenance, program administration, and staff training. The guidelines recommend that building owners and managers first understand their buildings' systems by conducting walk-through inspections of the HVAC, fire protection, life-safety, and other systems. Security measures should be adopted for air intakes and return-air grills, and access to building operation systems and building design information should be restricted. The guidelines also recommend that the emergency capabilities of the systems' operational controls should be assessed, filter efficiency should be evaluated closely, buildings' emergency plans should be updated, and preventive maintenance procedures should be adopted. The guidelines also caution against detrimental actions, such as permanently sealing outdoor air intakes.

The recommendations are intended for building owners, managers, and maintenance personnel responsible for public, private, and government buildings, including hospitals, laboratories, offices, retail facilities, schools, transportation facilities, and public venues. The recommendations do not address single-family or low-occupancy residences or higher-risk facilities such as industrial or military facilities, subway systems, or law-enforcement facilities. Copies of these recommendations are available at or by telephone, 800-356-4674.