The bombings of the World Trade Center in 1993, the Murrah Building in 1995, Khobar Towers in 1996, and the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998 made it clear that there are no safe havens from terrorism. Tragedy can strike anyone, anywhere, at any time—as we learned all too painfully on September 11, 2001.
Although the terrorist attacks of September 11 were shocking in their ferocity and wanton disregard for human life, they are acts that will not be easily repeated. The vehicle bomb employing conventional explosives still appears to be the most serious bomb threat confronting federal buildings. Given the large number of buildings potentially vulnerable to terrorist attack, it is imperative that their planning and design be sound, particularly when the magnitude of risk will vary widely depending on each facility’s mission and location.
For both new facilities and major renovations, physical protection must be integrated into the planning and design process. The challenge for design teams is to create facilities that protect against terrorist explosive threats while at the same time retaining the features that make them desirable workspaces. Often situated on urban sites, federal buildings are limited in the options available to restrict access to them or to provide effective standoff distances. Architectural and site design aesthetics are also difficult to balance with blast mitigation.
After the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, the U.S. Marshal’s Service assessed the vulnerability of federal buildings. The General Services Administration (GSA), in concert with
other federal agencies, was then directed by Executive Order 12977 to set construction standards for buildings that required specialized security measures, such as blast resistance. The result was the Interagency Security Committee (ISC) ISC Security Design Criteria for New Federal Office Buildings and Major Modernization Projects (ISC, 2001). The criteria apply to new construction or major renovation of those office buildings and courthouses occupied by federal employees in the United States that are not under the jurisdiction or control of the Department of Defense, which has its own criteria. The ISC criteria reflect a “flexible and realistic approach to the reliability, safety, and security of Federal office buildings.”
In November 1999, GSA and the U.S. Department of State convened a symposium to discuss the apparently conflicting objectives of security from terrorist attack and the design of public buildings in an open society. The symposium sponsors rejected the notion of rigid, prescriptive design approaches. The symposium concluded with a challenge to the design and security professions to craft aesthetically appealing architectural solutions that achieve balanced, performance-based approaches to both openness and security.
In response to a request from the Office of the Chief Architect of the Public Buildings Service, the National Research Council (NRC) assembled a panel of independent experts, the Committee to Review the Security Design Criteria of the Interagency Security Committee. This committee was tasked to evaluate the ISC Security Design Criteria to determine whether particular provisions might be too prescriptive to allow a design professional “reasonable flexibility” in achieving desired security and physical protection objectives.
EVALUATION OF THE ISC SECURITY CRITERIA
The committee has performed a detailed, line-by-line evaluation of the criteria and commented at length to the GSA on certain provisions. The committee finds the ISC Security Design Criteria document in general to be a mix of performance objectives, prescriptive requirements, and references to industry design standards. The committee believes that although full implementation of all the ISC criteria will provide some protection for building occupants against most blast-related threats and should significantly reduce injuries, the organization of the document makes it difficult to identify clearly the connections between specific criteria and the performance objectives they are meant to achieve. It is also difficult to identify clearly how some criteria apply to specific components of building design. Because this is a critical element in a performance-based design process, the committee believes that rectifying this shortcoming should be given priority. Another concern is that because the document is focused on the terror-
ist vehicle bomb as the primary means of attack, it offers little guidance on defending federal buildings and their occupants from other terrorist actions, including those using chemical, biological, or radiological weapons.
The committee is troubled by what it perceives to be a disconnect between the authorizing action for the security criteria (Executive Order 12977) and application of the criteria in practice. Without a clear and explicit statement that mandates use of the ISC criteria for all covered projects, it appears that the criteria will be applied at the discretion of individual project managers in GSA and other federal agencies—a highly undesirable situation. Indeed, other agencies are already drafting their own criteria independent of the ISC.
These and related issues can be addressed by further refinement of the ISC Security Design Criteria document—clarifying and reformatting it to provide more complete and comprehensible design criteria as well as necessary policy guidance. The committee believes that the continued use of both prescriptive and performance-based criteria is appropriate for several reasons, including the fact that most buildings can be designed quite effectively and flexibly using prescriptive criteria. Performance analysis and design are needed only for selected portions of the process; structured appropriately, prescriptive criteria—augmented by good practices from lessons learned—can themselves become a means of meeting performance objectives.
The committee recommends that several short-term actions be initiated if the ISC is truly aiming for a more performance-based approach to security-related design. This is especially important if design is to be based on clear and explicit guidance and fully integrated with other aspects of the facility planning and design process.
The following recommendations address issues that the committee believes should receive the immediate attention of the ISC; unless these first recommendations are implemented promptly, the ISC Security Design Criteria will probably continue to be underused and often misinterpreted by users who do not have a strong background in blast or security analysis. Additional recommendations are presented in Chapter 4, but the committee does not view them as having similar urgency.
GROUP 1—SHORT-TERM RECOMMENDATIONS
The committee recommends that:
The Interagency Security Committee give immediate consideration to the changes suggested by the committee as a result of its evaluation of the ISC Security Design Criteria.
The ISC Security Design Criteria be expanded to include basic information on how blasts affect buildings and people, as a technical basis for the protective strategies incorporated in the document (for suggested content, see Chapter 3 below).
A preface be added to the ISC Security Design Criteria that clearly establishes the authority and applicability of the document by citing Executive Order 12977 and all related executive or legislative actions.
The ISC Security Design Criteria be reviewed by a professional editor familiar with building codes and standards to improve its organization and ensure consistency in format, language, and style. This should improve both the readability and the utilization of the document.
Information provided in Part 3 of the ISC Security Design Criteria document be integrated with Parts 1 and 2, so that all information pertaining to a particular design component or system (structural or mechanical) is located together, thus clarifying the document and simplifying its use.
The spirit and intent of the language in the introduction to the ISC Security Design Criteria be incorporated in any document that references the criteria.
The Interagency Security Committee in concert with its member agencies begin a comprehensive review of the ISC Security Design Criteria as soon as possible. This review should include creation of risk assessment and management tools as well as policy guidance for physical protection and security to guide the development of risk reduction strategies and a performance-based design process. The review should also consider expanding the criteria to (1) include critical occupancies such as child care centers, (2) broaden the range of possible threats and countermeasures to cover chemical, biological, and radiological weapons, and (3) address the impact on protective design of such issues as emergency planning, enhanced fire protection, life-cycle costing, procurement strategy, and construction security.
ISC (Interagency Security Committee). 2001. ISC Security Design Criteria for New Federal Office Buildings and Major Modernization Projects. Washington, D.C.: General Services Administration.