Building Corporate Castles, Part 2

Few biological agents can be effectively used against a healthy population by terrorists. Educate your workers to reduce fears of a biological attack.

OSHA's General Duty Clause requires employers to provide a safe and healthy workplace for their employees. While safety professionals are well-versed in industrial accident prevention, the concept of "intentional accidents" can present things in a different light.

Violence directed against workers may come in a variety of methods that the supervisor must understand. Most attacks will involve some form of threat from the following list of weapons:

  • Biological
  • Nuclear
  • Incendiary
  • Chemical
  • Explosive

Safety and security experts use the acronym "BNICE" to remember the threats when considering how to defend a facility. Protecting workers and company assets is paramount. There are three steps to keep in mind:

  1. Keep the stuff from getting on them in the first place.
  2. If workers do get it on them, get it off as quickly as possible.
  3. If a worker is exposed, seek medical help.
  4. Do not panic! Preparation and knowledge allow companies to handle anything that is thrown at them.

One of the challenges of biological weapons is that they may be undetected until days or even weeks after the attack because of the incubation periods involved. Two types of biological weapons may be encountered. Pathogens are disease-causing organisms that make the worker sick; examples are the West Nile Virus and Smallpox. Toxins, on the other hand, are poisonous substances produced by living organisms that make the workers sick.

Educating workers to realize the list of biological agents that can be effectively used against a healthy population by terrorists is rather small can reduce the wave of fear of a biological attack.


Incubation Period



1-4 days



1-5 days


Hemorrhagic Fever

2-3 days



2-3 days



12-14 days

No primary treatment


2-4 days


Healthy workers should realize that in order for the biological agent to work on them, it must get inside their body. Human skin is the Number One source of defense against a bug because it provides a barrier that protects workers. We can augment this protection by keeping the skin clean. Handwashing is important, but sanitary cleaners are available in pocket-sized bottles to help kill germs when handwashing isn't possible.

Nuclear attacks can come in two varieties: detonation and contamination. In the event of a nuclear explosion, damage comes from the explosive force of a massive scale and damage can be seen miles away from the blast center. In the event of a so-called "dirty bomb," the terrorist uses a conventional explosive but laces it with radioactive particles to contaminate the immediate area and any rescue worker responding to the scene. Without proper instrumentation, this material may go undetected for weeks.

Incendiary attacks involve fire and have been a plague on businesses for years. Often, an attacker will use an accelerator such as gasoline to speed up the spread of a fire in a facility. These attacks normally take place when a facility is empty and unsecured.

Chemical attacks come in five basic families. They normally get into the system through inhalation, ingestion, absorption or injection:

  • Nerve agents attack the human nervous system.
  • Blister agents attack the skin, leaving blisters and burns.
  • Blood agents affect the ability of the blood to carry oxygen.
  • Choking agents such as chlorine and phosgene cause the lungs to fill with fluid.
  • Incapacitating agents such as tear gas and pepper spray cause pain and vomiting.

Explosives and Bombers
Explosives are another form of threat to the facility safety professional. Bombs have been hidden in packages, inside bicycles, and even attached to people intent on becoming suicide bombers. The availability of explosives and initiating devices make this a serious challenge to detect and counter. Some things to consider are removing the opportunity for a perpetrator to hide their explosives in the facility. Eliminating clutter and debris, even removing public trash receptacles, makes it difficult for the would-be bomber to plant the explosive.

Three facility principles of anti-terrorism can be applied by the facility management. Those principles are designed to keep the terrorists away from the building; if they get into the building, to control them and keep them away from critical areas; and if they do gain access and attempt to destroy anything, to mitigate their efforts by strengthening the structure and its contents. Considerations here are increased distance from the attackers, layout of the building and traffic control, and hardening the building structure.

ATF Recommended Evacuation Distance for Vehicle Bombs

Vehicle Type
Compact Sedan
Full Size Sedan
Cargo Van
Small Box Van
Fuel/Water Truck

500 pounds
1,000 pounds
4,000 pounds
10,000 pounds
30,000 pounds
60,000 pounds

1,500 feet
1,750 feet
2,750 feet
3,750 feet
8,500 feet
7,000 feet

Falling Glass
Hazard at
1,250 feet
1,750 feet
2,750 feet
3,750 feet
6,500 feet
7,000 feet

Increased distance
By increasing the distance from the public way to the building, the management can create a "stand-off" area that the terrorist must pass through to get to the building. Consider this the moat of the castle. Any physical barrier that keeps the bad guys away from your door will keep the building safe. Naturally, we don't want mad dogs and crocodiles around our plants, but there are some ways to achieve the same effect. On the other hand, we don't want to make it easy for a terrorist to drive a truckload of explosives to the front of our building and walk away from the impending explosion.

At 15 feet, the overpressure of the blast will probably be more than the existing windows can withstand. By applying a film to the inner surface of the windows you can increase the blast resistance to 4-6 pounds per square inch (psi). Replacing the windows with laminated glazing can increase the resistance to 8-9 psi. Remember, though, the overpressure from an explosive device can be in the thousands of psi, and no glass can withstand that pressure. Backpack-type bombs do not put primary structures at risk, so focus on protecting your facility from vehicle-sized bombs. Stand-off distance from an anticipated device should be at least 50 feet.

Such measures as a plaza setback, trees, boulders, and other landscaping trims can be used to restrict vehicle access to facilities. While trees can help protect the facility, they also provide a screen for perpetrators to hide behind. Other types of vegetation that are more than 4 inches high can conceal an intruder. Shrubbery should be kept under 2 feet in height, and lower branches of trees should be trimmed to at least 10 feet off the ground for visibility purposes.

Don't let the attacker sneak up and put a bomb directly on your building. Companies should establish clear zones of visibility 20 feet outside any fence and 50 feet inside the fence. This requires an attacker to show himself prior to getting to the fence; once over the fence, he's got to move 50 feet to the building.

Fences can provide security when used as barriers, but they can be penetrated. A security team should check the condition of fences on a regular basis. Chain-link fence is normally found at permanent locations and prevents people and equipment from getting inside the fence. At isolated areas, barbed wire can be used to restrict personnel movement. Temporary facilities may use concertina or razor wire. Ensure that workers use correct handling gloves when installing, removing, or maintaining concertina wire.

First Steps on a Long Road
While this article provides useful information that can be easily adapted to any facility, it is merely the beginning of a long road. Federal, state, and local government agencies are gearing up to provide information and steps businesses can take to protect themselves. We'll discuss this type of interoperability and cooperation between the public and private sectors in the next article.

10 Things You Can Do To protect your facility

  • Establish a "zero tolerance" rule about terrorism.
  • Conduct a positive ID check of all visitors.
  • Control access to critical areas.
  • Coordinate with local authorities and neighboring businesses.
  • Invite local authorities to your facility to offer suggestions, share plans.
  • Publish an emergency telephone list and test it periodically.
  • Increase stand-off distance from parking lots and sidewalks.
  • Safeguard your ventilation system with screens and security cameras.
  • Control or strengthen windows with thick curtains or plastic film.
  • Advertise your preparedness to would-be attackers.
  • This article originally appeared in the June 2003 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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