I have written in this column about HVAC security in the past, and based on current events, it is more important than ever to begin adding HVAC security design intent to the commissioning Basis-of-Design document in the design phase for a new project or a building renovation.

More often than not, the topic of HVAC security is not even discussed and/or part of any building program. Today, we can’t afford to not discuss it, even if we only talk about it with the building owner and then sign off that security is not a concern for the specific project.

The 2015 HVAC Application ASHRAE Handbook Chapter 59 table of content features the following important topics.

• Owner’s project requirements                                       

• Risk evaluation                                                                 

• HVAC system security & environment health & safety design

• Modes of operation

• Security & EHS design measures

• Commissioning & recommissioning

• Maintenance management

• Chemical incidents (addressing types of chemical agents)   

• Explosive incidents


An engineer could easily create a Basis of Design checklist after reading the first section of Chapter 59, Owner’s Project requirements, because it asks the following questions.

• Who are the main occupants?

• What is the intended use of the building?

• What is the total planned population of the building?

• What type of operations will the facility conduct?

• Will occupants evacuate, shelter in place, or carry on normal activities uninterrupted?

• What level of protection is required against threats?

• Does the owner have a dedicated security team and/or consultant?

• Will occupants be required to remain in the building after an incident (e.g., in a high-security prison)?

• Are there any unique environmental health concerns (e.g., explosive atmosphere in a lab)?


These are all good questions to be asked, whether the building program is for a commercial office building, hospital, school, or a data center, to mention just four HVAC applications. Page 59.3 of the chapter also offers several more useful questions to be asked that could be added to the Basis-of-Design checklist. Think about it. How much time will it take for a proactive designer to ask the owner or owner representative the questions published in Chapter 59? Heck, it may generate a very important discussion and decisions made early in the building program that will help the building’s occupants years from now! And don’t get me going on, “We don’t have this in our construction budget …” 

This chapter also touches on commissioning and, more importantly from a sustainability point of view, recommissioning. These two tasks compliment the maintenance management section of the chapter, but training and routine planned maintenance will be a challenge because certain HVAC equipment and building automation installed may be an integral part of the security system. High-risk building owners may not want to make public the features included in the HVAC design to accommodate safety that will limit the facility’s vulnerability and/or its occupants.

Of course, the HVAC design engineer is not a security expert, and that task should be left to those professionals who design, build, operate, and/or maintain building security. However, chapter 59, HVAC security, is intended to get the conversation going early in the design phase.  ES