Back in July 2012, this magazine published an article titled “HVAC Security Emergencies — No Terrorists Required” with very little reader response to this most serious issue. Now ASHRAE is updating Chapter 59 of the 2015 ASHRAE Handbook - HVAC Application, which covers HVAC security. And yet I still believe we are just not taking HVAC security seriously. In fact, for all those readers who are design engineers and trade contractors, when was the last time (assuming there was a first time) that you saw HVAC security on the agenda when coordinating the building system design with the other sections of the contract documents?

My guess is that the majority of building program designers has probably never seen this topic on the project meeting agenda. I will even go so far as to question whether the majority of HVAC design engineers are familiar with Guideline 29 (you will have to Google it to get the title). So here are a few security topics to add to your next design review meeting:

  • If there is a building HVAC system alarm for a toxic spill, is this system designed to assist in noxious or dangerous fume containment?

Comment: Analogous to an “engineered smoke system,” is the BAS programmed to place the spill area under 100% exhaust while the adjoining areas designed to positively pressurize these neighboring areas above, below, and adjacent to the spill area? 

  • Are there pull stations in the building to alarm the building management and its occupants when a spill occurs?

Comment: Building management will routinely have mock fire drills, so why not security drills? 

  • BAS have computer and Internet security for viruses so what about cyberterrorist security?

Comment: How do you protect the HVAC and fire alarm computerized systems from cyberterrorists who want to disrupt building function, or worse, to shutdown the building automation computer in anticipation of other terrorist acts at this facility.

  • How are the HVAC systems and associated building automation and electrical power engineered to combat a natural disaster?

Comment: Did the design engineers place the building automation computer and data/communication room along with the electrical room and emergency generator in the basement below the water line outdoors?

  • Are there any engineered solutions for containment of infectious disease incorporated into the building automation system?

Comment: Studies have been published that indicate more than 90,000 people die a year from hospital acquired infection, so how will this healthcare project avoid being part of the statistics?

  • Whether the building is located in an urban setting or out in the country away from other buildings, has the design team considered the facility’s proximity to roadways and railways where accidents can occur that could create subsequent infiltration of toxic fumes?

Comment: Will the building HVAC respond automatically to a neighborhood outdoor catastrophe, or is the design team counting on the facility management staff to act in a timely manner to shut down all outdoor air intakes before the building environment is contaminated? 

It cannot be assumed that extraordinary incidents, whether created by accident, natural causes, or by terrorists won’t occur in the building that you are designing the HVAC system for.