"It's probably not appropriate for every single building to go out and immediately do a collective protection system. It's just not a cost-effective system," said Rob Kehlet, chief of the consequences assessments branch of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. "But careful thought [is needed]: What can I do to protect the people within my building?' "
Getting that discussion going is the mission of the Protecting People First Foundation, which was formed after the Oklahoma City bombing to push for more safety features in government buildings. The foundation is preparing an outreach campaign to influence the architects, engineers, property owners and insurers in the office industry.
"A tremendous amount needs to be done to better safeguard people in the workplace," said Ed Zesk, director of public policy initiatives with the Rhode Island group. "And as the technology becomes more widespread, it becomes more affordable."
Ron Burton, vice president of advocacy and research at Building Owners and Managers Association International in Washington, said his members are paying close attention to the rising number of security innovations on the market. Some building owners are waiting for scheduled upgrades before they tinker with their mechanical systems or other features.
But an informal poll by the association several months after the 2001 terrorist attacks found that most tenants and owners were satisfied with the security they had.
"The challenge is going to be, the farther away we get from 9/11, the less people think about it," Burton said.
Building owners have taken relatively simple steps such as ontrolling access because the economic incentive isnt necessarily there to do more, said David V. Thompson, director of public architecture at RTKL Associates Inc. in Baltimore.
"You can spend an inordinate amount of money and still not be protected, because the bad guys will always find a way around anything you do," he said.
For example, no good automated detectors exist for ricin, the deadly toxin that closed down all three Senate office buildings this week. Much sensor technology is in the early stages of development, said Battelle's Janus.
Thompson suggests a careful analysis of individual risk before shelling out for merchandise, though he notes that they can come with two-for-one benefits. A blast-resistant window is good against hurricanes, too.
"You have to be wise about what you do," he said.
Vince Nardy, chief executive officer of Hunter Manufacturing, an Ohio company that conducts research on chemical and biological filters in Edgewood, said the commercial sector interest in its chemical-biological defense systems has been limited to companies with buildings in high-risk areas such as Times Square.
"We still think its a very viable market, but it has yet to materialize," he said of general commercial users. "There's been a lot more discussion of it than there's been sales generated. This is essentially an insurance policy against the unknown."
Despite that challenge, a new Baltimore company, Collective Protection Inc., thinks the timing is right for its line of chemical, biological and nuclear air-filtration systems.
About $2,000 worth of the hardware creates a safe space for a family of six. Patuxent Environmental Group Inc. in Dunkirk, which installs the equipment, spent $11,000 to protect a training room that can accommodate 50 people.
Tim Breidigan, the company's vice president, said military and government users are the obvious customers but that he expects big demand from the private sector eventually.
The technology is Israeli and can be found in buildings and homes across that country, Breidigan said. Americans, newer to the idea of terrorism in the streets, are weighing what ought to be done.
"We're seeing an incredible amount of interest, and I think in the next six months well start to see some actual installations," Breidigan said. "It's an evolution. All of this is new to everybody."