From a safety perspective, it’s time to bring this often overlooked topic into the light. 

In sync with this month’s article on “Creating an HVAC Security Basis of Design,” I wanted to offer my concept for commissioning HVAC security. Now readers may say, “What is HVAC security?” That is because it really doesn’t get discussed when creating the project’s basis of design (BofD) in the early stages of a building program. Even when I was involved with commissioning at the Pentagon about 15 years ago, security was not a topic of discussion and left to the experts who go about their business in isolation. Well, today we need to bring HVAC security out of seclusion because of the obvious state of the world, but also so that occupants can be assured of their own safety when in a building or public space.

To begin with, my HVAC security process follows the same commissioning (Cx) standards you will find in ASHRAE guidelines that require beginning with the writing of a BofD document and finishing up with a system demonstration, operator training, and continuous monitoring of the system. To get more specific with the Cx process, one must go to chapter 59 of the 2015 ASHRAE Handbook to read about HVAC security, which gives the reader an overview to CBRE (chemical, biological, radiological, and explosive) accidents and touches on terrorism and natural disasters. All of these issues must be at least considered and checked off as applicable or not applicable for the job and then written into the Cx BofD document.

At the start of a building program, the HVAC Cx expert should meet with the owner representative, owner’s facility manager, environmental health and safety (EHS) manager,  security manager (if applicable), design team, and IPD project manager to begin the process of building the BofD. As the design takes shape, the HVAC security portion of the BofD will be continuously enhanced with the documentation of the project’s risk management. Integral to this process is determining early on how much the building owner wants to invest in commissioning the HVAC systems. My recommendation is always that “some commissioning is better than none at all,” so I’d recommend the project invest in a minimum initiative that we can call “Cx lite” or, depending on the specific project, invest more for the traditional Cx process.

Staying with the theme, “some commissioning is better and none at all,” Cx-Lite security will include:


  1. Cx kickoff meeting and explanation of what is needed in the BofD.
  2. Inventory the risks inside the building, outside the building, and potential of terrorist incidents.
  3. Signing off the owner’s decision to commission based on risk management list, e.g., do nothing pertaining to outside natural disasters and project goals and expectations.
  4. Produce a design review checklist for those security risks that will be later demonstrated in the functional performance test (FPT), e.g., chemical spill containment and exhaust system demonstration.
  5. Based on the design review and BofD, produce the FPTs and get a signoff from the design engineers and IPD team, and require the IPD team to use the FPTs in their equipment system startup and dry-run system demonstration.
  6. With the signed FPT’s in hand, the Cx expert can facilitate a HVAC security demonstration with the facility’s O&M, EHS, and security staff participating.
  7. Final Cx report with all meeting minutes, risk management document and signoff of the risks that would be commissioned, goals and expectations, design review documents, completed FPT documents, scrubbed FPTs for future recommissioning, and project recap sheet providing an overview of the process.


Now, I recognize that many commissioning people will say that this isn’t enough if you are going to commission an HVAC system for security purposes, and I would agree. At the same time, I also believe if there isn’t a risk management document and security decision signoff document, then maybe no HVAC security commissioning will occur, so “some commissioning is better than none at all” when it comes to the safety of the building’s occupants. Analogous to taking baby steps, until the design community, and more specifically the HVAC industry, wants to commit to a risk management document that leads to commissioning of security, then Cx lite is a good start. Want to read more about security? Check out another BNP Media publication, ES