Homeland Security

Alan R. Earls

A Unique Challenge for ASTM Committee E54

Responding to the diverse standards needs of homeland security applications, ASTM Committee E54 has developed more than 30 standards and has many more in process.

Imagine trying to provide a common venue for discussing standards on subjects as diverse as building and facilities design and construction, cleanup after a terrorist attack and specific performance aspects of tools for detecting a chemical weapons attack. Clearly, it's a daunting challenge, one whose sheer diversity is faced by few other ASTM committees.

That's the mission of ASTM Committee E54 on Homeland Security Applications. The committee includes a diverse range of subcommittees covering subjects such as:

  • Chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive sensors and detectors;
  • Emergency preparedness, training and procedures;
  • Decontamination;
  • Personal protective equipment;
  • Building and infrastructure protection;
  • Electronic security systems; and
  • Operational equipment.

Committee E54 chairman Mark O. Oakes, founder and CEO of Intellimar Inc., Sykesville, Md., and its two subsidiaries, Concentric Security LLC and Blue Ember Technologies, providers of physical security solutions, says that topical diversity was deliberately embraced when the committee was formed.

That organization happened back in July 2003 as an outgrowth of discussions held within ASTM International Committee F33 on Detention and Correctional Facilities in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. By that point, ASTM had already been actively working with staff at the newly organized U.S. Department of Homeland Security to identify existing standards that might be relevant or useful to the agency and the homeland security function.

Since that time E54 has been busy and, through its subcommittees, has promulgated a number of new standards, including ASTM E2640, Guide for Resource Management in Emergency Management and Homeland Security, which addresses the most effective ways to manage resources when disaster strikes; E2668, Guide for Emergency Operations Center (EOC) Development, which provides step-by-step procedures for designing emergency operations; as well as E2458, Practices for Bulk Sample Collection and Swab Sample Collection of Visible Powders Suspected of Being Biological Agents from Nonporous Surfaces; and E2770, Guide for Operational Guidelines for Initial Response to a Suspected Biothreat Agent.

Varied Incentives for Standardization

Oakes says Committee E54 is unusual in that the committee lacks one of the clear drivers that help to yield progress for other committees. In the case of many other ASTM technical committees, they exist with the direct or indirect support of an industry that needs standardization. "The thing that drives that need is economics and money; if it is a large enough industry and there are enough people, you have many incentives for reaching consensus," says Oakes. In those instances, manufacturers, providers and end users provide resources to support everyone's interest and participation, he says.

But, with representation on the committee from DHS, Committee E54's mission is partly driven by the National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act and OMB Circular A-119, Federal Participation in the Development and Use of Voluntary Consensus Standards and in Conformity Assessment Activities, which directs federal agencies to use voluntary standards such as those developed by ASTM International in lieu of governmental standards whenever feasible. One challenge that DHS and other federal agencies faces is identifying and working with the appropriate standards organization to meet their diverse standards needs. The broad scope and structure of E54 facilitates this process, and E54 has delivered a number of standards in support of DHS and other stakeholders.

Although the commercial incentive described by Oakes is not a prominent driver in most aspects of homeland security, there are exceptions. For instance, he notes, homeland security initiatives have a big impact in the construction industry, where billions of dollars are being spent on government facilities, guided, in part, by the U.S. Department of Defense Unified Facilities Criteria (see sidebar, "Revisiting the Crucial Government Facilities Standards"). Companies also manufacture equipment for that large facilities market, Oakes notes.

However, for the balance of E54's work, there is generally less related commercial activity. "When you think of homeland security, there are five different threats a terrorist may employ - chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive, and those threats cut across sections of the committee and its subcommittees," says Oakes. Many of these threats are of interest to the federal government, but a market doesn't yet exist to address them, he notes. "We may recognize that there is a chemical or biological threat. We may recall that sarin gas was dropped into a train in Tokyo or that a substance was sent through the U.S. Postal Service to a number of locations, including the Hart Senate Office Building. But that was 10 years ago. We have short memories. So the money chases the biggest needs. If there are no incidents for a long time, what that means is that no large industry evolves to meet that need," says Oakes.

That reality leaves E54 in a situation where on one hand, with standardization initiatives addressing the UFC and the related Unified Facilities Guide Specifications, there will be a highly developed and robust industry seeking involvement in the process. On the other hand, in many other areas, there is almost no industry, so groups, including the federal government, are coming together on an ad hoc basis.

A Challenging Environment

"The challenge for us is to continue to build consensus and get enough people to the table so we can develop these standards in preparation for markets that haven't fully evolved yet," says Oakes. "In my opinion, that is a challenge that is very unique to the E54 world in that we have both of these situations in play at the same time. We have an evolved market and also un-evolved markets," he adds.

Thinking longer term, Oakes says he is convinced there are opportunities to accomplish even more through a process of aligning the subcommittees around shared approaches to homeland security issues. "The executive committee is in agreement with me that we want to begin to move everything we do, including all the work in our subcommittees, into a more common security-based framework," says Oakes.

According to Oakes, that effort will build on two interlocking sets of security principles. For instance, he says, a basic model that is often referenced today divides security into three functions, roughly delineated by time. In this schema, the first thing you must do is detect the threat. The second thing you must do is delay the threat. And the third thing you must do is respond to the threat. "That's it in a nutshell - detect, delay and respond," he says.

In addition, notes Oakes, there are three fundamental components of security systems – people, procedures and equipment. Those components must align with the functions of a security system, namely detection, delay and response.

Oakes believes working with all the people involved in the different subcommittees and moving them into this common understanding of how security works will help to increase cross-pollination. "If we can start to bring folks into this shared understanding, our consensus-based standards will have a much higher level of thoroughness and efficacy than they might have had otherwise," says Oakes. However, Oakes is the first to admit that the change is not something that will happen overnight.

Revisiting the Crucial Government Facilities Standards

In the post Cold War period, as the rising threat of terrorism became a critical issue, and particularly after the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia in 1996, U.S. federal government officials looked to create a plan for building and operating facilities safely and securely. At the time, the U.S. Department of State had developed standards for embassies and the U.S. Department of Justice had begun to develop some guidance for federal buildings.

Then there was a separate mandate in 1998 for the U.S. Department of Defense to develop unified design guidance for the design and construction of facilities. That effort wasn't predicated on the threat of terrorism but rather on achieving standardization within military construction. The result was the development of what became known as the Unified Facilities Criteria, which was intended to supplement other standards by which government facilities are designed, including the Interagency Security Committee standards for federal facilities and nongovernmental standards such as those provided by Underwriters Laboratories and ASTM International. Further development of the UFC to include security and antiterrorism criteria was "more of a self-guided initiative by some of the people in DOD," says Curt Betts of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha, Neb., and a member of ASTM Committee E54 on Homeland Security Applications. Betts notes that the UFC was also able to benefit from findings in the Downing Commission report on the Khobar Towers. That commission stressed that DOD needed to have standards for the mitigation of terrorist threats at its facilities.

An additional impetus to expand and refine the UFC came in the wake of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Subsequently, DOD prioritized additional guidance designed to make facilities safer and more survivable.

The UFC has become a crucial document, applicable to billions of dollars of construction and renovation work. It covers subjects as diverse as alarm systems, information systems and actual building construction details. In developing the document, the DOD Security Engineering Working Group sought to use all commercially available documents addressing security and antiterrorism issues, especially those developed under the national consensus standards process. However, there were few such documents, so members of the Security Engineering Working Group started developing UFC standards and participating in U.S.-based standards developing organizations to create standards that addressed DOD needs and that could also serve the broader population.

For those in government and for organizations in the private sector that serve the military, the UFC has since become a touchstone, and its influence has even begun to extend beyond government. However, despite its values and its virtues, the UFC for the most part is not a consensus standard and therefore lacks the advantages inherent in voluntary consensus standards, such as greater creativity and lower development costs.

Now, according to ASTM Committee E54 Chairman Mark O. Oakes, Intellimar Inc., Sykesville, Md., the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which oversaw development of the UFC, is indicating its openness to participating in a voluntary consensus process for the further development of the UFC, or its augmentation. According to Oakes, the long-term plan is to replace as much content in UFC and the related Unified Facilities Guide Specifications as possible, and wherever possible replace DOD documents in their entirety with national consensus standards such as those developed by ASTM International.

In some cases, according to Oakes, DOD will submit UFC to ASTM to be formatted as ASTM standard specifications as a starting point for balloting. After they have passed through the consensus process, DOD will replace those UFC elements with the ASTM specifications, he explains.

"The Unified Facilities Criteria are perhaps the most complex and comprehensive prescriptive set of standards that exist today. We now have key people on the committee from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; they will help us to build and improve upon this foundation," says Oakes.

"We are indeed committed to using national consensus standards to the maximum extent possible," said Betts.

Alan R. Earls is a writer and author who covers business and technology topics for newspapers, magazines and websites. He is based near Boston, Mass.

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