HHS Releases Guidelines to Protect Ventilation Systems from Attacks

The government releases new guidelines for protecting ventilation systems in commercial and government buildings from chemical, biological and radiological attacks.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Friday released new guidelines for protecting ventilation systems in commercial and government buildings from chemical, biological and radiological attacks. The guidelines 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 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 National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) prepared the guidelines with help from 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.

"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. "This effort demonstrates how the federal government and the private sector can work together to make our nation more secure."

The guidelines are a first step 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 advises restricting access to building operations systems and building design information. The guidance 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 can be obtained by calling the NIOSH toll-free information number, 1-800-35-NIOSH (1-800-356-4674).

edited by Sandy Smith

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