Fighting the War on Bioterrorism
The U.S. government-the Department of Health and Human Services-spearheaded by Tommy Thompson-has stepped up efforts to respond to such attacks and make certain that the country is prepared for future "outbreaks." Understandably, there is a high level of concern from American citizens. There has been much talk over the past few weeks of anthrax and smallpox, probably more than we ever cared to know. But better methods for preparedness and reaction are needed. What can security officials do to protect employees?
For example, did the U.S. Postal service react accordingly to its very real anthrax threat? Angry postal workers said that local and federal authorities were slow to respond to the anthrax threat, even after a contaminated letter was opened in a Senate office in October.
The Postal Service followed the advice of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and other public health officials who advised them that until there was evidence indicating anthrax present in the facility, it was not necessary to test postal employees.
Asked if federal authorities had dropped the ball, Tom Ridge, director of the Office of Homeland Security, said he did not believe so.
"I think they moved as quickly as they could," said Ridge. He said investigators were working under the "thesis" that the anthrax-laden letter to Senate Majority Leader, Tom Daschle, was the source of contamination among the postal workers.
Fighting the Good FightTo combat the anthrax threat, the U.S. postal authorities have launched what is close to a $1 billion security operation, which includes purchasing machines to bombard mail with radiation. While some companies claim they can irradiate the mail with electron beams to kill bacteria the same way they do in some foods, the Department of Energy has been working on biological and chemical agent sensors that might monitor the air in public places. Its effectiveness would hinge on diminishing false alarms.
Perhaps new mail-handling procedures are a step in the right direction, but far less technical. Rubber gloves and masks are now commonplace in areas where the mail is handled. Also, identifying a letter that is suspicious-no return address, unknown sender, excessive postage and stained letters-is essential.
Security experts offer some advice:
- firms using X-ray equipment to ensure that packages don't contain explosives;
- setting aside special rooms for suspicious parcels; and
- education of employees
An FBI warning, issued Oct. 6 over the bureau's national threat-warning system, prompted a building managers trade group, the Building Owners and Managers Association International, to alert its members about the potential threat. The trade group's alert said the release "of a toxic chemical into an air handling system is a credible threat because toxic chemicals are readily available in quantities and in forms making them easy to disperse." The group warned its members to step up security around air intakes, which included advice from an FBI hazardous materials expert on how to combat any chemical release in a building by turning on water sprinklers. The FBI advisory has urged businesses to rethink security strategies.
Empowering BusinessesAccording to BBJ Environmental Solution, Inc., Tampa, Fla., the first line of protection is building security. Since a release into the air handling equipment would be much more efficient, equipment rooms must be secured. There is talk of improved ventilation filters that would keep out smallpox and anthrax, and they would need bigger fan motors to pull the air through them. Persons assigned to maintain these systems should be made known to the security personnel and maintenance should be scheduled and documented. Many outside air intakes are not readily accessible and are less likely to a direct release. Where such intakes are at ground level, consideration should be given to securing these or providing surveillance. Also, restrict access to sensitive areas and alarm those areas.
In addition, a properly designed system configuration would provide some protection. In such a system, air is filtered prior to being released into the building air stream. The most efficient filters should be installed and maintained properly. Although small particles such as viruses and bacteria will pass through even the most efficient filters, many will be removed, thus reducing risk.
"There are numerous people involved in indoor air quality business, from HVAC contractors to maintenance and facility managers to environmental engineers and industrial hygienists. Clearly, this can lead to a security risk as to who has access and ultimate responsibility for these systems," says Robert Baker, chairman and CEO, BBJ Environmental Solutions.
Building owners are now looking closely at their current intake systems because some are low enough for a passerby to reach and breach them. For those systems, providing extra guards and closed-circuit TV cameras in the area is recommended.
In the event of an attack, immediately notify the local emergency management team, as well as contact local and federal authorities. The CDC should be contacted, for they can provide assistance with the diagnosis, treatment and control of the dangerous organisms.
After evacuation, all surfaces should be disinfected, including the HVAC system. There also must be ways to diagnose infected people and identify the pathogen quickly.
New TechniquesThere is a buzz from researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory over the use of expertise from nuclear weapons work to better defend for the new war against terrorism.
Months from now, officials say firefighters, police and other emergency workers should be able to respond to a possible biological attack with a hand-held mini-DNA lab developed at the lab. Within half an hour, they would know whether anthrax is present.
If a dangerous substance is detected, emergency workers could cover it with a gel developed by Lawrence researchers to kill biological agents and neutralize chemicals without harming people.
Scientists plan to deploy a second device that could constantly monitor and analyze the air in a convention hall, subway or even an entire city, triggering an alarm if pathogens reach hazardous levels.
SIDEBAR:It is a new era in corporate security, protecting employees from invisible attackers. There's only so much technology can do to protect the buildings. There needs to be new contingency plans-imagining all the ways a terrorist would or could stage an invasion. As of right now, the only carrier of anthrax is through the mail system. Could it be transmitted by another means? Security should be proactive in their approach to this new form of warfare.
- Blockades in front driveways
- Access control to access closets, which are on every floor for the ventilation system.
- CCTV/surveillance should be used to capture events on video
- Proper identification systems should be implemented
- Access control should be monitored more stringently
- Intercom systems/evacuation phones to notify appropriate personnel in the event of an emergency
- HVAC/Controls increasingly important