Officials throughout the UK are working out ways to protect venues such as Durham Cathedral and Wimbledon from germ and chemical attack. Here's what they're planning …
Six months after 11 September, more than a dozen landmark buildings across the UK are being assessed for their vulnerability to terrorist attacks. Teams of building control and safety experts are assessing football stadiums, racecourses, tall towers and even religious buildings as part of a nationwide initiative to prepare for a terrorist strike using biological or chemical weapons. The list includes Durham Cathedral, Newcastle United's St James's Park and the Wimbledon tennis complex.

In Manchester, Rodney Burrows, chairman of a group of council building control experts called Core Cities, is hastily reviewing procedures to counter a biological or chemical attack at the £115m City of Manchester Stadium and 16 other buildings that will host the Commonwealth Games in four months' time. "The things that need looking at are the containment and decontamination of chemicals, and how quickly and efficiently plant and mechanical works can be shut down," he says. "At the moment, nothing can be ruled out."

One proposal under consideration is to install banks of decontamination showers to treat spectators after a chemical attack. "The fire service does not have the capacity to hose down vast amounts of people, so one of the ideas they are considering is the installation of shower units that could be used to decontaminate people," says Burrows.

The city council is also understood to be consulting scientists to assess what contingency plans are needed to prepare for – and to deal with – a chemical or biological attack. "There is always the issue of whether to evacuate or to keep people in to shelter them … it depends on the incident," explains Burrows' colleague Bill Challenger, principal building surveyor for safety issues at Manchester council's building control department. "If the threat was a gas cloud, moving people away might be the best thing but, if there was fall-out, it might be better to shelter them."

But it is not only in Manchester that safety assessments are hurriedly being undertaken – reviews are under way across the nation.

Core Cities is a national group of building control officers whose responsibility is to identify key buildings around the country and assess their vulnerability to terrorist attack. The unit is made up of the heads of building control divisions from Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield, Leeds, Liverpool, Birmingham, Bristol, Sunderland, Edinburgh, and Glasgow local authorities.

At the top of the group's agenda is the threat of terrorist attacks on buildings where large numbers of people gather. "Through the Core Cities group, local authorities from around the country come together to share ideas and assess the risks in each region," explains Burrows. "Planning for terrorist attacks is an important issue at Core Cities meetings, and each individual area is considering the risk to targets in their regions."

The fire service does not have the capacity to hose down vast amounts of people, so one idea is to install shower units to decontaminate people

Rodney Burrows, chairman, Core Cities, on plans for the City of Manchester stadium

Possible terrorist targets are understood to include football stadiums such as Newcastle United's ground St James's Park, Manchester United's Old Trafford, Glasgow Celtic's Glasgow Park, Sunderland's Stadium of Light and Leeds United's Elland Road. Other key venues include Newcastle and Sedgefield racecourses, as well as religious buildings such as Durham Cathedral and a host of large concert and conference venues. All are to be assessed by the group.

Hugh McSherry, Newcastle's chief building control officer, says the council is acting on the concerns of the Core Cities' safety review. He says the threat of chemical and biological attacks are being assessed in buildings in the city and Newcastle United's safety certificate for St James's Park is being reviewed. He points out: "As a consequence of 11 September, everyone has got to review what procedures are in place and carry out a proper and thorough risk assessment."

Core Cities is also liaising with a separate working group in London with the aim of drawing up a national action plan. Like Core Cities, the London District Surveyors Association Stadium Safety Group is reviewing emergency procedures at sporting arenas. Trevor MacIntosh, chairman of the stadium safety group, says: "At Merton, we are specifically looking at the Wimbledon Tennis Tournament because that has an international audience." One idea under consideration alongside the police and stadium management is the idea of decontamination units to contain a biological threat.

Burrows says the action plan can be promoted by either the Department for Culture, Media and Sport or the Football Licensing Authority. It would act as a protocol to deal with chemical and biological attacks in public stadiums. "The publication will serve as a best-practice guidance," says Burrows. "In the meantime, all local authorities will need to consider terrorist risks."

The Core Cities group is focusing its attention on the threat of biological and chemical attack as part of a wider government initiative. Earlier this month, the government allocated an extra £53m to the fire brigade to prepare for terrorist attacks involving chemical, biological and radioactive weapons. This funding came from a Whitehall initiative called "New Dimensions" that was set up last year in response to the attacks of the 11 September.

Similar initiatives are under way in the USA. Last week, the National Institute of Standards and Technology "went to congress for $50m for research into bio-chem attacks", according to Peter Bressington, director of fire engineering at Arup and head of the group's extreme events mitigation taskforce.

A developer must go through the threat of terror attacks because they don’t want to be stuck with a building they cannot let

Peter Bressington, Arup

It is not just in public buildings that the threat of biological and chemical attack is being assessed. "Clients that are investing in tall buildings in the City are looking at putting mitigating systems in place," says Bressington. "We're already doing it." Measures being considered include providing refuge areas with safe air supplies within towers and splitting a building into separate air-conditioning zones.

He adds that developers are taking the threat of unconventional terrorism seriously. "If you strip it down to basics, a developer is not going to build a tall building without going through the threat of terror attacks because they do not want to be stuck with a building they cannot let."

One area of particular concern for public and private buildings is the introduction of chemical or biological agents into air-conditioning systems. The Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers is assessing advice published by the FBI on the use of toxic chemicals in this way.

Most office buildings, commercial establishments and shopping centres have an air-conditioning system. The FBI advice says that any biological or chemical release would be "spread throughout the entire system within five minutes". The bureau's advice includes activating a building's sprinklers if hydrogen cyanide, chlorine or other poison gases are released inside a building.

In London, in addition to the reviews being carried out by the stadium safety group, the London District Surveyors Association has set up a separate initiative to assess the vulnerability of tall buildings in the capital. The group's findings will feed into work by the DTLR to amend the Building Regulations in the wake of the 11 September attacks on the World Trade Centre.

The move follows an approach by the DTLR to the Corporation of London, asking it to contribute to proposals for changes to the Building Regulations. The corporation decided to widen the review to involve all inner London authorities through the LDSA. Bob Jones, president of the LDSA, says the group will focus on the structural robustness of buildings, fire issues and evacuation procedures. The group will report next month.

The government has also moved to set up yet another group, which will look at the design of buildings and their ability to withstand fire. The Buildings Disaster Assessment Group started work at the beginning of the year; it consists of representatives from the government's fire division, the Inspectorate of Fire, the Health and Safety Executive, the DTLR's Building Regulations division and other building design and fire trade bodies. It has been specifically set up to examine how building can be designed to be more user-friendly for fire brigades.

Ten ways to protect your building

Building has obtained a draft copy of Arup’s extreme events mitigation taskforce report, Chemical or Biological Terrorist Attack on Buildings. These are some of its recommendations
  • Site building ventilation plant rooms and water tanks away from public access, and monitor with CCTV cameras
  • Position ventilation air intakes in inaccessible locations, and protect the intake against projectiles. Separate air intake and outlet locations to avoid cross-contamination
  • Install dampers and control systems to shut down the air-conditioning system instantly or to switch to full fresh-air mode
  • Organise the air-conditioning system into zones and minimise air transfer between them
  • Protect access to a building’s water supply, and monitor water dispensers within a building
  • Put in place an emergency evacuation procedure
  • Monitor contractors supplying food and water to staff
  • Monitor cleaning and support staff
  • Put in place protocols for the treatment of suspect mail
  • Install personal protection equipment in the building including respirators and protective clothing