Fifteen Years Later

ASTM’s Committee on Homeland Security Applications was formed after 9/11 and has led the way in developing standards for several aspects of security.
Rick Carter

As they did with many other aspects of our lives, the events of Sept. 11, 2001, ushered in a new era for security- and safety-related standards and products. Concerns about infrastructure protection, threat and vulnerability assessment, and related challenges — soon to be termed “homeland security” issues — assumed heightened significance in the United States and around the world.

Now, 15 years later, the members of the ASTM Committee on Homeland Security Applications (E54) manage an important and growing portfolio of standards designed to guide the manufacture, testing, and certification of security-related products, many of which did not exist before 2001.

E54 was formed in 2003, one year after the U.S. federal government created the Department of Homeland Security. The committee comprises 450 members who have developed 53 standards to date for:

  • Chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosives sensors and detectors;
  • Emergency preparedness, training, and procedures;
  • Decontamination;
  • Personal protective equipment;
  • Building and infrastructure protection;
  • Security controls; and
  • Operational equipment.

The Committee's Launch

Committee E54 did not originate exclusively from the ashes of 9/11. Previous events such as the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, and the 1995 sarin gas attacks in Tokyo and the Oklahoma City bombing put many organizations to work developing standards. These were “primarily for first responders for counterterrorism,” says Philip Mattson, standards executive for DHS and current chairman of Committee E54.

A former army engineer officer and longtime security standards expert, Mattson has been with DHS since 2008, and has been a member of ASTM for much of his professional life. Even before 9/11, he says, there was “a clear indication that we needed to start preparing for this — it wasn’t a case of ‘if’ but ‘when.’ But immediately after 9/11, it was a great wake-up call.”

During this “very hectic” period, says Mattson, “there was a need to coordinate so we didn’t have duplicate efforts and conflicting standards, and to ensure that we were working toward a common goal and a common set of requirements. A lot of these elements were discussed before there was even a budget.

“At the same time,” he says, “there was a realization within ASTM that having a committee focused on homeland security applications would be useful because there was no single entity doing so.” When a security needs conversation begun by ASTM’s Committee F33 on Detention and Correctional Facilities “came to involve manufacturers, end users, and federal agencies,” says Mattson, “the result was the formation of E54.”

Powders, Trash Cans and Robots

Among the first standards E54 tackled were those for chemical- and biological-agent detection and sampling, driven by the need for accurate white powder sampling after the post-9/11 anthrax attacks. “Responders at the time would go in and test the powder, and if they didn’t get a result they trusted, they would keep sampling until everything was gone,” says Mattson. “So we developed a protocol for the sampling of white powders to ensure there was sufficient material that could go to a lab for a formal analysis, and whatever was left over could be used for field screening.” This protocol (E2458), is E54’s most used standard.

Early focus was also given to blast-resistant trash cans. Following the Madrid train bombings in 2004, “The [U.S.] Transportation Security Administration released a security directive about using them at transit stations,” says Mattson, “but there were no standards. So we developed them.” This group of standards now includes performance specifications, a test method, and a guidance document (E2639, E2740, and E2831).

Test methods for response robots was another area of early and ongoing focus for the committee. “Since 2005, we’ve worked with stakeholders to identify the specific robot performance criteria they are interested in,” says Mattson. “These include mobility, how the robot is manipulated, how far can it reach, how much it can lift, and so on. And these methods have been promulgated around the world.”

Of particular note is Japan’s use of these robotic standards to both test and certify robots, and train and certify operators for the decommissioning and decontamination of the Fukushima reactor complex (heavily damaged by a tsunami in March 2011). In the United States, Mattson says, ASTM’s robotic standards have “supported procurement decisions for over $60 million worth of robots for use by bomb squads, the Department of Defense, the State Department, and other federal agencies.”

Robotic standards are especially important to Casandra Robinson, a physical scientist at the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology and E54 vice chairman. On 9/11, Robinson was an engineer in the robotics group at the Savannah River National Laboratory, working with the National Institute of Justice to help local law enforcement agencies with covert surveillance tactics. This resulted in Robinson and her colleagues being asked to work at Ground Zero. “So we packed everything we thought might be useful, including several robots, remote video equipment, and other remote tools, and headed up.”

On site for nearly two weeks (in the second of two teams from SRNL), Robinson’s group tried to help search and rescue teams with robotic devices but found the debris field too challenging. “We saw firsthand that you really can’t use a robot in that type of situation,” she says. “It was so unstructured and chaotic that our robots could not navigate in that environment. But while we were unable to deploy the robots, we did deploy several remote video systems in support of the fire department and urban search and rescue teams. These included hand-held systems that could be carried into the debris field, and remotely operated video systems placed around the debris field on the remaining tall buildings so the fire department could see from above to spot fallen fire fighters or other victims.”

This high profile field use of remote systems led NIJ and DHS to fund a study of urban search and rescue technology needs; Robinson co-authored the report that came from this study (“Urban Search and Rescue Technology Needs: Identification of Needs”). “Robots were a large part of discussion with USAR teams,” she says, “and this work led to a DHS-initiated effort through ASTM to develop test methods for response robots, of which there are now 15, with more in the works.”

To those standards, another 15 will soon be added that address more complex robot capabilities. Proposed by Subcommittee E54.08, the standards include the navigation of difficult terrain, inspection of hard-to-reach places, maneuvering curbs, incorporating video capabilities, and more. 

A Look Ahead

“A number of areas are emerging, where standards have not yet been fully addressed in an integrated fashion that supports the homeland security enterprise,” says Mattson. “I’m talking about integrated, wearable sensors, data standards, cybersecurity, the Internet of Things, standards for less lethal technology, and many others. There’s also work being done in cyber-physical systems, and in the areas of interoperability, compatibility, and connectivity. Not all of these fall into the E54 realm,” he adds, “but the challenge for government and the DHS is to be able to articulate our requirements and provide the context so the standards applied through E54 can address these things in an effective way.”

There are also security areas in which E54 has yet to become fully involved, such as “certain technology used in the law-enforcement community that deal with countermeasures and detection equipment for new and emerging threats in CBRNE [chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosives],” says Mattson. Such threats — standards for which are developed by Subcommittee E54.01 on CBRNE Sensors and Detectors — can arise from a range of sources. According to the subcommittee chairman, Bruce deGrazia, Global Homeland Securty Advisors LLC, “The sensors and detectors we now cover are for use in a chemical or biological attack, but also for non-warfare situations, such as a chemical fire.”

A homeland security consultant and former assistant deputy undersecretary for environmental quality in the U.S. Department of Defense, deGrazia says there is a high degree of vulnerability for chemical fires, both because of the many chemical plants located along major U.S. rivers and the growing use of tank car trains that can derail and catch fire. He adds that while the United States has yet to experience a wide-scale chemical, biological, or nuclear attack, “this danger has not decreased. You only have to look at the war in Syria to realize that chemical weapons are still being used. For this reason, ASTM standards now cover a larger area than they did earlier in this century, but there’s still much to be done.” He points to a need for new standards covering vehicle-mounted detectors and standards for drone-mounted detectors. “And this is just for chemical detection,” deGrazia says. “Bio-detectors and those for radiological situations are just as critical.”

Mattson is aware that much of ASTM’s work on new standards hinges on the robustness of the homeland security products market, which, he says, cannot be taken for granted. “In the grand scheme of things, the homeland security market is pretty small, so our ability to develop standards that will have broad appeal and the utility to increase the marketplace in both the U.S. and internationally is what will help make them more attractive.” He also says that while the perceived threats of 2016 differ from those of 2001, “This is subject to change, so we still need to prepare for a broad variety of threats. But as budgets shrink, it makes it even more critical that we’re making the right decisions and developing the right products to expand the market and provide opportunity for industry to produce and sell these devices.”

Building Our Progress

Mattson says that Committee E54’s impact to date has been significant and points to several key examples: standards being used for training responders for robot operations, along with white-powder sampling, and ASTM test methods for equipment performance, among many others. “All of these provide key guidance to the homeland security enterprise,” Mattson says.

To these he adds the recent successes of Subcommittee E54.02’s critical documents, such as the standard practice for radiological emergency response, a guide for emergency operations-center development, and a practice for responder family service support.

Mattson believes E54’s future depends on its members’ ability to maintain a value-based perspective coupled with high level involvement in the homeland security community. “We want to make sure we don’t just stop at a certain point and say, ‘Well, we developed this spec and we solved that problem, so let’s move on.’ If you can’t test it or validate it, and if we don’t know how to incorporate that effectively into our operations, then we probably haven’t done as much as we could,” he says. “But it’s also incumbent upon the stakeholder — whether it’s the government or other entity — to be at the table working with ASTM to ensure our requirements are well-articulated and address the proper needs.”

Sidebar: ASTM Standards “Invaluable” in Design of Award-Winning 9/11 Pavilion

In addition to commemorating the tragic events of 9/11, the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in Lower Manhattan is now known for something else: good design. The structure’s grade-level pavilion, through which visitors pass to reach the underground 9/11 Museum, made news recently by winning a 2016 IDEAS2 award, presented by the American Institute of Steel Construction. In announcing the win in the category for projects over $75 million, AISC cited the pavilion’s “striking presence on the memorial site not only because of its dramatic, angular structure and prominently displayed steel tridents, but also because it is the only above-ground portion of the museum.”

As with countless construction projects around the world, ASTM standards played a vital role in the design and construction of the pavilion. “We used many ASTM standards,” says Erleen Hatfield, a partner at BuroHappold Engineering, the project’s structural engineer. “Standards that have to do with structural steel were important, as were all of the ASTM standards for cast-in-place concrete. Those were the two major materials we used structurally on the project.”

One of the most critical ASTM standards cited was test method C39, the compressive strength test for concrete. “This was important because of the security criteria for this building,” says Hatfield. “Being able to point to these standards and make sure they were being upheld was certainly important considering all the requirements we had. They were invaluable.”

Sidebar: The ASTM–SEI Connection on Security

The April 2016 agreement between ASTM and the Safety Equipment Institute to bring SEI in as an ASTM subsidiary will enhance efficiencies in the certification of security-related products made to ASTM standards.

President of SEI since 1994, Patricia Gleason (who is now also ASTM vice president of certification) has long worked closely with ASTM. She is familiar both with the development of Committee E54 standards and how manufacturers apply them. Particularly noteworthy, she says, is the SEI audit process, which is designed to ensure manufacturer compliance with relevant standards created by ASTM and other groups. These have helped bring a high level of quality to what Gleason estimates are thousands of 9/11-influenced products now on the market. Gleason adds that as the number of these products continues to grow, “the value of a highly efficient relationship will only become more evident at all stages, from standard creation through manufacturing and certification to end-user satisfaction.”

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