Sandia LabNews

Sandia, Lawrence Berkeley unveil new guidelines to help guard airports against chem/bio threats

Sandia, Lawrence Berkeley unveil new guidelines to help guard airports against chem/bio threats

Over the past few years, researchers at Sandia/California have helped improve San Francisco International Airport’s (SFO) ability to thwart chemical and biological terrorist threats through the PROACT (Protective and Responsive Options for Airport Counter-Terrorism) program. The next logical step, it seemed, would be to take the expertise and lessons learned from PROACT to assist other airport facilities across the nation, and a newly published report may soon serve that very purpose.

Sandia has collaborated with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) to develop Guidelines to Improve Airport Preparedness Against Chemical and Biological Terrorism, a 90-page report to aid airport planners in defending their facilities against chemical and biological attack. Early indications from SFO managers are that the report contains an ideal mix of information and direction, but Sandia has asked other airport managers to review the document to ensure the guidelines are broad enough to relate to a variety of airport designs yet specific enough to serve their individual needs.

Sandia/California’s System Studies and Systems Research groups (8112 and 8114) are spearheading the project, with researcher Donna Edwards (8112) and new department manager Susanna Gordon (8114) taking the lead. The Indoor Environment department at LBNL, which enjoys a long and reputable history in airflow and contaminant transport modeling in buildings, contributed significantly to the publication and has previously published its own guidance document for protecting buildings from chem/bio attack.

The Federal Laboratory Consortium recently selected the Lawrence Berkeley/Sandia team to receive its Award for Excellence in Technology Transfer in 2004 for the work package "Minimizing Casualties from a Chem/Bio Attack: Preparation, Training, and Response Resources," which included the airport guidance document as a core component.

"We wanted to offer airport planners a user-friendly guide that gives them a clear understanding of chem/bio defense of their facilities and concrete steps they can take to assess and improve their current readiness level," says Donna. Readers of the guide, she says, will be armed with the information necessary to determine what kinds of physical or system upgrades are required for their facilities, or whether an outside consultant is needed. The guidance contained in the document is also intended to help airport personnel deter high-consequence chem/bio attacks through targeted physical security measures, and to mitigate the impact of an attack through passive protection (measures that reduce impact even in the absence of response) and active response measures.

Susanna, who served as the principal investigator during previous stages of PROACT (Lab News, May 2, 2003), points out that airports and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) are already well equipped to deal with explosives and other conventional weapons. But the nature of a chem/bio threat, she says, is far different, and a comprehensive guide is needed to instruct airport facilities on how to deal with such a threat.

The guide begins with an overview of the chem/bio threat, including an examination of past incidents, specific chemical and biological agents, and potential scenarios that airport planners should consider. Subsequent chapter themes include vulnerability assessments, targeted physical security measures, passive protection measures, and active responses to mitigate the consequences of attack.

In developing the guide, Sandia drew extensively upon knowledge gained from its collaboration with San Francisco International Airport under the PROTECT and PROACT programs (both initiated by DOE and continued under the Department of Homeland Security). Insight was also gleaned from Sandia’s participation in the Defense Department’s Biological Defense Initiative and from guidelines Sandia developed for other sites. Existing guidelines for building protection by the Center for Disease Control/National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the US Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center also were used.

"We understand that no airport will look identical or respond in precisely the same fashion," Donna says. "But the starting point for any facility is the same: gaining a thorough understanding of the specific threats and the characteristics of those threats, which in this case involves chemical and biological agent attack. Only then can you begin to look at plausible responses and facility ‘hardening’ measures. The ultimate goal, of course, is to protect airport facility users and save lives in the event of a terror attack."

Because Sandia’s experience working with SFO played such a key role in the lab’s development of the document, managers at that facility were offered a "sneak peek" at the guide and asked to offer recommendations and insight. SFO’s response, Donna says, was just what she had hoped for: an enthusiastic endorsement.

While acknowledging the urgency of getting the document into the hands of airport planners as soon as possible, Donna says Sandia and LBNL plan a thoughtful rollout of the guide. "We want to gain feedback from the building protection community and a few major airports to ensure we give the best possible advice before sending it to every airport in the country," she says.