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November 10, 2005

Berkeley and Sandia Labs Develop Airport Protection Guidelines

BERKELEY, CA – A report developed by a joint team of researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories is being distributed to airport executives and emergency planners and will help security managers of airports and other transportation facilities reduce the risk of chemical and biological attacks.

A report from a joint team of researchers from the Berkeley and Sandia national laboratories is aimed at helping security managers of airports and other transportation facilities reduce the risk of chemical and biological attacks.

Guidelines to Improve Airport Preparedness Against Chemical and Biological Terrorism” is a 100-page document that makes concrete recommendations on improving security and assessing vulnerable areas and helps its readers understand the nature of chemical and biological attacks. The report has been turned over to Airports Council International (ACI) and the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE), two large organizations that together represent the interests of thousands of airport personnel and facilities in the U.S. and around the world.

The project was an extension of PROACT (Protective and Responsive Options for Airport Counter-Terrorism), a five-year, Sandia-led program most recently supported by the Department of Homeland Security. Berkeley Lab became part of the PROACT effort in 2003 and joined forces with Sandia on the development of the guidance document.

The Berkeley team was headed by Ashok Gadgil and Phil Price of the Environmental Energy Technologies Division. Gadgil is leader of the Airflow and Pollutant Transport Group at Berkeley Lab. They worked with colleagues at Sandia/California’s Systems Studies and Systems Research Group, with researcher Donna Edwards and department manager Susanna Gordon in the lead.

Ashok Gadgil
Phil Price

“The Berkeley Lab team has had decades of experience in understanding building air flows and indoor transport of gases and aerosols,” says Gadgil. “We were able to draw on that depth of expertise and distill it as it applies to airport protection. I am pleased that we could bring to bear our very substantial buildings expertise on the airport security problem. This really gave us a huge head start in this difficult job."

The guide begins with an overview of the threat posed by chemical and biological attacks, a discussion of past incidents, specific chemical and biological agents, and potential scenarios that airport planners should consider in planning facility response. Subsequent chapters cover vulnerability assessments, targeted physical security measures, passive protection measures, and active responses to mitigate the consequences of attack.

"Over the years, we've done a lot of scientific research concerning airflow and pollutant transport in buildings. For this report, we needed to apply our knowledge to a real-world problem that has a lot of elements we don't usually have to consider, like crowd control, and the chain of command for responding to an event, and so on," says Price.

To develop the guide, the researchers worked extensively with airport managers at San Francisco International Airport, who provided insights into their security measures and strategies for improving security. The Berkeley-Sandia team sent the draft document to reviewers at other airports around the country to ensure that it reflected the best thinking of security managers. Although focused on airports, the document is also relevant to transportation facilities such as train and bus stations and ports.

The Berkeley Lab team has extensive expertise in airflows and pollutant transport through buildings, including practical knowledge such as the state and capability of a typical facility’s heating/ventilation/air-conditioning (HVAC) system, and the value of different types of filtration against biological agents. In addition, Berkeley Lab previously produced a document intended to help building owners understand and defend themselves from chemical and biological threats (, experience that proved valuable as the new airport guidelines were developed.

In collaboration with SFO, Sandia conducted research over the past few years to understand how agents would spread through an airport. They also studied the effectiveness of HVAC responses, conducting extensive gas and smoke tracer tests at SFO. Sandia and Berkeley were able to create a set of specific prioritized recommendations targeted at improving the preparedness of airports and other facilities with wide-open interconnected spaces against chemical and biological terrorism. They also addressed facility security (for example, whether it is more important to prevent access to HVAC mechanical rooms or to provide better video coverage of areas in the terminal building).

For years, the Berkeley Lab team has been conducting computer modeling to predict airflow through buildings, performing experiments to measure airflow and pollutant transport, and studying the factors that affect speed and spatial distribution of pollutants. Since 1999, it has applied this expertise to the problem of reducing building vulnerability to chemical and biological terrorist attacks.

In addition, the group has:

  • developed sensor networks for measuring airflow conditions in buildings and detecting the release of chem/bio agents in real time
  • performed computer simulations of how gases disperse through residential and commercial buildings
  • conducted studies of the exposure and health effects on building occupants of both pollutant releases and chem/bio weapons

This research was funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

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