Terrorism Protection by Design

By capitalizing on SAFETY Act protections, contractors can gain a competitive edge while protecting themselves and project owners from liability from a terrorist attack.
By Sharron Halpert
June 2, 2019

Imagine that a building on a construction project was subject to a terrorist attack. Before the dust settles, the litigation would begin. There are ways to protect construction firms and project owners from this liability and with the right protocols, the protection can stand for the life of the building.

Following the attacks of 9/11, the federal government created the Department of Homeland Security. Part of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 included Support Anti-Terrorism by Fostering Effective Technologies Act, otherwise known as the SAFETY Act. They approve “Qualified Anti-Terrorism Technologies” (QATT) and some are true technologies and others are more process and procedure. Regardless of the QATT and how it is deployed, it can offer SAFETY Act protection that can protect a company from the liability of an attack.

In July 2012, Yankees Stadium became the first sports facility to earn SAFETY Act Protection by passing a litany of tests that approved their security protocol as a QATT. This protects the building owners by making them immune from general lawsuits, which could be filed by victims if there were a terrorist attacks on the facility. Since then, many sports and entertainment venues have followed suit. A quick search on shows sports venues that have SAFETY Act protection. The specifics are proprietary, but the growing list showcases the importance.

Several companies have taken the opportunity to obtain approval from DHS and some could potentially support an owner’s next project. For example, Owens Corning has SAFETY Act protection for its mineral wool. Clearly mineral wool is not a technology, but it is still considered a QATT (Qualified Anti-Terrorism Technology) based on how it is used. Owners may choose to use this product on a project or other QATTs. There is an array of cameras and other security devices that an architect can specify that protects the building owner,.

For contractors, SAFETY Act protection could be a unique way for a proposal to stand out. Of course, it protects the build team just as much as it protects the owner’s team, because they are all considered “downstream users.” If the project could benefit from this and the client doesn’t know about SAFETY Act, it could be a way to protect a client’s best interest by introducing them to the opportunity. This protocol can be deployed during the design and construction of a building. It can offer SAFETY Act protection upon completion of construction, provided the protocol has been followed. The optimum time to start with this protocol is before the subcontractors’ bid in order to optimize and clarify contracts with the trades. There is potential that it could be deployed later, but only with the right team.

This protocol is best likened to LEED in how it is deployed. There may be certain elements of the design that need to be modified to meet the LEED criteria. Then there are people who monitor the construction and there may be some protocols that are required such as sealing ducts to prevent dust and debris from becoming indoor air quality control issues when construction is completed. Then there are steps in the commissioning of the building and finally a few check ins for the maintenance team to ensure the standards are complied with during maintenance of the building. The SAFETY Act protocol operates much in the same way, it just reviews different elements of construction related to the protocol. When the building is complete, it will attain the Department of Homeland Security’s SAFETY Act protection the same way a project might attain LEED certification.

SAFETY Act is a tool used by more and more savvy risk managers in a growing variety of ways. There are more than 800 approvals to date. A quick look at the website lists approved technologies.

Using one of these means that, if there were an act of terrorism, the building owner (as well as the “downstream users” of the QATT, which includes the entire AEC team, subcontractors and consultants on the project) are exempt from litigation.

There is an array of QATT’s available, including:

What SAFETY Act Protection Offers

SAFETY Act protection eliminates the juggling of court jurisdiction to benefit one party over another or the confusion of different laws in different states. Litigation goes immediately to federal court where the judge is obligated to operate under the guidelines of the SAFETY Act. This can bar punitive damages or pre-judgement interest, offer immunity from civil claims, prevent joint or several liability for non-economic damages. This can support a contractor bidding on government contracts because it is offering this level of federal protection. It can support a contractor bidding on projects in the U.S., whether the owner is foreign or domestic. It can even support a project built overseas provided there is some connection back to the U.S. If there was litigation, it would take place in the U.S., in U.S. federal court.

SAFETY Act protection may be best seen as layers of protection. Active shooter protection will not offer protection from cyber crimes and neither would offer protection from a bomb or act of arson. If all three are concerns on a project, it may be best to consider layering the various protections into a project.

Organizations such as the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey have an office responsible for documenting all the elements that go into achieving SAFETY Act protection for individual buildings, bridges, tunnels and the like.

The SAFETY Act can be a critical part of an overarching risk management plan. Contractors can capitalize on SAFETY Act protections to protect their construction firms and give them a competitive edge as on the next project.

by Sharron Halpert
Sharron Halpert started in the firestop industry in 1999 and has worked for or with all the key players. Since 2005, she has been on projects valued over $18 billion, and covered roughly 25 million sq/ft of project space. She has been trouble shooting firestop issues on everything from a nuclear power plant to sports stadiums, hospitals, telecommunications, mega-resorts and more. She is a voting member of ASTM and the International Firestop Council and has taught sessions for AIA, ICC, and SFPE at events across the US and as far away as Saudi Arabia. Halpert Life Safety Consulting provides services as consultant, trainer and Third-Party Inspection of Firestop as well as SAFETY Act Consulting.

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