The next terrorist attack against a building is simply a matter of when, not if, predict security professionals. Collectively referred to as CBRNE, chemical or biological devices, radiological and nuclear bombs, and enhanced or improvised explosives are the new weapons of choice by homegrown and international terrorists.
“If you are in an iconic building or adjacent to one, this is something to worry about,” says Greg Eiler, president of Building Protection Systems, Inc. (BPSI), a manufacturer of air intake monitoring systems. “If your tenants are financial service companies or government agencies, you should also be concerned.”
Regardless of your location, be on guard for CBRNE weapons delivered through air intake vents, sent through the mail and express delivery, or left as abandoned packages.
Monitor the Air
While some newer buildings have air-intakes on the roof, about 60% of existing buildings pull in air from the first three floors, making the air-intakes easy to reach, Eiler says.
Critics complain that CBR monitors for air-intake systems cause too many false alarms. According to Eiler, however, today’s second-generation technology has solved the false alarm problem.
Older systems were activated by insignificant amounts, but newer sensors will trigger an alarm when dangerous levels of chemicals, toxins, or radiation are detected. The alarm can also signal the building control system to close the dampers at the air- intake vents and to stop the HVAC fans throughout the building. The system next shuts down the mechanical equipment.
“Now you have 15 minutes to investigate, talk to the police, and make decisions,” Eiler says. “Should you evacuate because the building has been attacked? Should you shelter in place because the chemical or toxin has been released outside?”
Instead of leaving these controls orphaned, take an integrated approach. The Engineering Security: Protective Design for High Risk Buildings, a manual published by the New York Police Department, recommends that “owners of High Tier buildings integrate CBR detection equipment into central security management control and building management system.”
Check the Mail
CBRNE weapons also arrive by mail, express delivery, and in abandoned packages. Mailroom staff, administrative assistants, shipping and receiving clerks, security personnel, and others who handle incoming mail and packages first are not only at risk from CBRNE weapons but also part of a secure solution.
Jason D. Reid, founder and principal with National Life Safety Group, a facility fire and life safety consulting firm, recommends training to help staffers recognize suspicious mail and packages and take appropriate action, whether they work in a receiving facility serving an entire building or in a tenant’s mailroom.
Whoever first touches arriving mail and delivery packages should look for anomalies. Mail and packages for individuals that don’t work in the building, postmarks from different cities than the return address, no return address, strange handwriting, too much extra postage, odd smells, leaking materials, and abandoned boxes should raise suspicions.
High-risk buildings and tenants might consider a variety of CBRNE detection equipment on the market as well as automated mail and package opening systems. At minimum, have employees wear gloves and use letter openers, scissors, and other implements when opening mail and packages.
Form a Response Team
Precautions aren’t always enough. What happens when a mailroom staffer cuts open the wrong envelope and anthrax spills out?
“If someone in a high-rise office building does not take appropriate actions in the first five minutes (of the release of a CBRNE weapon), it may impact other tenants and their operations,” says Reid.
That raises legal liability issues. Reid adds that insurance companies have also begun to review policies and procedures at workplaces considered at risk. Carriers want to know how owners are addressing this risk.
Rob Pennington, senior advisor with the National Life Safety Group, recommends creating a standard operating guideline (SOG) and train staff, including building security officers, to respond accordingly. “Training will enable those involved in a CBRNE event to work safely and assist emergency responders,” he says.
In an event, the SOG would notify the appropriate authorities, decide whether an evacuation is necessary or not, isolate potentially dangerous mail or packages, generally direct operations, and tend to people affected by chemicals, toxins, or an explosion. Staff familiar with the SOG are better suited to assist emergency responders.
If you’re not sure about the risks, think about the past 20 years. Just a few examples: mail bombs from the Unabomber, sarin gas released in Tokyo’s subways, and a suicide bombing attack in London. In Iraq today, terrorists have detonated bombs that release chlorine gas when exploded. Such attacks may become the next wave of terrorism. Make it harder than it’s worth to attack your building.