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UFC/ISC Security Design Criteria Overview and Comparison

by Joseph L. Smith, PSP and Dan E. Kelley
Applied Research Associates, Inc.

Last updated: 07-23-2010


In an effort to minimize the likelihood of mass casualties from terrorist attacks, two similar, yet distinct, sets of criteria have been established by different branches of the federal government to guide owners and responsible parties in the implementation of suitable measures that appropriately balance facility construction and use with improved safety and security of the facility occupants.

The federal government has implemented the Interagency Security Committee (ISC) Security Design Criteria. The ISC Security Design Criteria was developed to ensure that security issues are addressed during the planning, design, and construction of all new Federal Courthouses, new Federal Office Buildings, and major renovations. This federal criteria has been extended to also cover leased facilities.

Similarly, the Department of Defense (DoD) has implemented antiterrorism security requirements to meet its specific needs. Contained within the Unified Facilities Criteria (UFC) and Unified Facilities Guide Specification (UFGS) are the 4-xxx series of security engineering UFC that deal with antiterrorism and physical security. In general, the UFC and UFGS criteria are designed for use by the three services and other DoD agencies. The UFC documents establish procedures to be used for the design, construction, operation, maintenance, and modernization of all DoD facilities. The UFCs are comprehensive and address all major aspects of facility construction and operation.

The UFC 4-xxx series and ISC Security Criteria address similar issues; this document will compare the two criteria and explain the basic differences.


A. ISC Security Criteria

Background and History

The Interagency Security Committee (ISC) developed the ISC Security Criteria to ensure that security becomes an integral part of the planning, design, and construction of all new Federal Courthouses, new Federal Office Buildings and major modernization projects, and leased facilities. The criteria consider security in all building systems and elements.

The ISC was established by Executive Order 12977 dated October 19, 1995 to develop long-term construction standards for locations requiring blast resistance or other specialized security measures. In a series of working group discussions, the ISC revised and updated the General Services Administration (GSA) 1997 Draft Security Criteria, creating the 2001 ISC Security Design Criteria. The ISC criteria were updated again in September 2004, and include three primary documents:

  • ISC Security Design Criteria for New Federal Office Buildings and Major Modernization Projects: Part I by The Interagency Security Committee. 29 September 2004. For Official Use Only.
  • ISC Security Design Criteria for New Federal Office Buildings and Major Modernization Projects: Part II: Tables, Design Tactics, and Additional Risk Guidelines by The Interagency Security Committee. 29 September 2004. For Official Use Only.
  • ISC Security Standards for Leased Space by The Interagency Security Committee. 29 September 2004. For Official Use Only.
Development path and timeline of the ISC Security Design Criteria

Fig. 1. Development path and timeline of the ISC Security Design Criteria

Both the ISC Security Design Criteria and the GSA Security Design Criteria that preceded it grew out of the Department of Justice (DOJ) Vulnerability Assessment of Federal Facilities which was written at Presidential direction after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. All of these documents speak to a common purpose, but the ISC Security Design Criteria is aimed at major projects and uses a different system than the DOJ Vulnerability Assessment (Fig. 1) to rate risk and assign protection levels. The DOJ report was produced in just 60 days and did not address security requirements at a level where an A/E firm could implement the security measures into a facility.

The ISC Security Design Criteria is updated on a regular basis to incorporate best practices of the security field and to utilize the latest security technology. The document can be obtained from the DHS's Interagency Security Committee Standards and Best Practices Web site. These criteria apply to all new Federal Office Buildings, Federal Courthouses, and major modernization projects not under the jurisdiction or control of the Department of Defense. Certain facility types are currently not required to meet the ISC Criteria including: airports, prisons, hospitals, clinics, border patrol stations, ports of entry, or unique facilities including those classified as Level V by the DOJ Vulnerability assessment.


The ISC Security Design Criteria is a performance-based document designed to ensure that security becomes an integral part of all building systems and elements.

ISC Security Design Criteria
The ISC Security Design Criteria addresses comprehensive requirements for building security spanning many disciplines. The philosophy is to provide performance based criteria based on project specific risks assessments.

high rise graphic
"Security must be an integral part of building and site planning, starting at the earliest phase and continuing throughout the process."
—ISC Section 1.1

Criteria Categories
  • Planning and Cost
  • Site Planning and Landscape Design
  • Architecture and Interior Design
  • Structural Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Electrical Engineering
  • Fire Protection Engineering
  • Electronic Security
  • Parking Security

Fig. 2. ISC Security Design Criteria Categories

Subjects covered by the criteria include:

  • Planning and Cost—This section addresses the overall cost implications of decisions made in the application of the criteria as well as emphasizing that security must be an integral part of building and site planning, starting at the earliest phase and continuing throughout the process.
  • Site Planning and Landscape Design—Effective site planning and landscape design can enhance the security of a facility and decrease the need for some costly modifications. Minor changes and considerations in the layout and control of a site can have significant impact on the protection requirements and impact the facility design and cost.
  • Architecture and Interior Design—Architecture and interior design choices should focus on protecting vulnerable functions by reducing their visibility and access to them, and by locating them away from high risk areas. The location of areas at higher risk than others such as public space prior to security screening, lobbies, loading docks, and mailrooms can heavily influence protection requirements.
  • Structural Engineering—This section focuses on the physical hardening of a facility to increase its structural robustness, and to reduce the potential for widespread collapse and loss of life should an attack occur. This section also presents requirements for the protection of key structural elements such as walls, windows, frames, roof systems, etc. The prevention of progressive collapse is also discussed.
  • Mechanical Engineering—The section focuses on protecting against airborne contaminants, and on locating components in less vulnerable areas, limiting access to mechanical systems, and providing a reasonable amount of building system redundancy.
  • Electrical Engineering—This section of the criteria is aimed at protecting a facility's electrical system and ensuring that major security functions continue in the event of an emergency.
  • Fire Protection Engineering—This section of the criteria addresses the special consideration required to increase the reliability of fire protection systems during an incident.
  • Electronic Security—The emphasis of this section is placed on considering electronic security early in project planning to help ensure that it is a cost effective, integral part of the facility design.
  • Parking Security—Mitigating the risks associated with parking requires creative design and planning measures, including access control, perimeter buffer zones, barriers, structural hardening, and other architectural and engineering solutions.

For information on how these professionals in these discipline areas should address security through a "whole building" approach, see WBDG Design Disciplines.

B. DoD UFC 4-xxx Series

Background and History

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has also developed and implemented new criteria for the protection of its facilities and troops in the field, which are presented in the UFC 4-xxx series of manuals. DoD's efforts in the area of antiterrorism were accelerated in response to large-scale, asymmetric attacks upon the military forces of the United States by terrorists in the Middle East. Examples include the bombing of the military barracks in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia by forces loyal to international terrorist Osama Bin Laden (1996), and the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in the Port of Yemen in 2000. More recent examples are the hundreds of attacks that have occurred as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom and the subsequent occupation of Iraq by U.S. forces.


Unified Facilities Criteria consist of a wide variety of documents relating to various disciplines and facilities. The documents that address antiterrorism and security for multi-disciplinary design are in the 4-xxx security engineering series and include:

The DoD security criteria, like the ISC Security Design Criteria, is performance based with the exception that all inhabited buildings must be constructed in accordance with certain minimum standards, even when it is determined through a threat analysis that there is no specific threat or there is only a minimal threat to the people in the building. There are 22 minimum standards, which are briefly addressed below. The threat upon which the minimum standards are based actually produces blast loading similar to the ISC medium level of protection when conventional construction distances are achieved. However, if that standoff cannot be achieved then the building designer is required to design for the increased blast loading associated with the lesser standoff. If the threat analysis indicates that the facility needs to be designed for a specific threat over and above the minimum threat, then the designer is required to perform blast analysis based on that threat at the achievable standoff. Like the ISC Security Design Criteria, the UFC documents are updated regularly.

Department of Defense UFC
The philosophy of the DoD UFC 4-xxx series on security engineering is that an appropriate level of protection can be provided for all DoD personnel at a reasonable cost.

scales graphic
"The appropriate level of protection is intended to lessen the risk of mass casualties resulting from a terrorist attack"
—UFC 4-010-01 Section 2-2

Design Criteria
  • Maximize Standoff Distance
  • Prevent Building Collapse
  • Minimize Hazardous Flying
  • Provide Effective Building Layout
  • Limit Airbourne Contamination
  • Provide Mass Notification

Fig. 3. UFC Design Strategies

The UFC 4-010-01 DoD Minimum Antiterrorism Standards for Buildings, for security addresses six basic design strategies (figure 3), ranging from building standoff and prevention of collapse to limiting airborne contamination and providing mass notification.

Subjects covered by the UFC include:

  • Site Planning—This section has five minimum standards that address standoff and access issues to help keep explosives as far away as possible from facilities. Subjects covered include minimum standoff distances, drop-off areas, and internal parking.
  • Structural Design—This section has four minimum standards that focus on the strategy of incorporating designs to avoid progressive collapse. Topics also include structural isolation, building overhangs, and exterior masonry walls.
  • Architectural Design—There are six minimum standards in this section dealing with many aspects of building layout and other architectural design issues that must be incorporated to improve overall protection of personnel inside buildings. Subjects include windows, building entrance, exterior doors, mailrooms, roof access, and overhead mounted architectural features.
  • Electrical and Mechanical Design—This portion of the criteria contains seven minimum standards addressing issues on building ventilation, utility systems, and mass notification.

For information on how to address the DoD Minimum Antiterrorism Standards for Buildings in the context of the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED® Rating System, see WBDG LEED®-DoD Antiterrorism Standards Tool.



While the ISC Security Design Criteria and DoD UFC 4-xxx series address similar topics, they approach the issues in a unique fashion, primarily because of the different missions of the responsible agencies. Minimizing the risk of mass casualties and serious injuries from a terrorist attack is a common goal of the two criteria. The use and exposure of each agency's facilities are unique and require different strategies for building security. In general, the DoD standards require all inhabited buildings to be designed to a minimum threat, but DoD further requires that a threat analysis for each facility be performed, which can potentially lead to threats much larger than those used in the ISC Security Criteria. The UFC 4-010-01 also requires that minimum standards be incorporated when there is no threat. The ISC focus for federal buildings is on minimizing the risk of serious injuries and casualties for employees and visitors while balancing the need and expectation for openness in public facilities. The ISC seeks to protect against small explosive attacks directed at the facility and collateral damage produced by larger attacks on nearby facilities. The ISC Security Design Criteria recognizes that a certain amount of risk must be accepted for civilian facilities operation in an open and free society.

Emerging Issues

Both the UFC 4-010-01 and ISC Security Design Criteria have implemented requirements that cover new and existing leased facilities as well as government-owned facilities. This has far reaching implications as tenant agencies will seek to upgrade their facilities or relocate if necessary. The implementation of criteria for leased facilities will have potentially significant impact on certain communities that are home to agencies and departments that require protection in leased buildings. Developers and building owners must become proactive in understanding and implementing the new criteria into their facilities.

For information on designing/retrofitting buildings to resist explosive threats, see WBDG Designing Buildings to Resist Explosive Threats and Retrofitting Existing Buildings to Resist Explosive Threats.

Relevant Codes and Standards

Additional Resources


Building / Space Types

Applicable to most building types and space types.

Design Objectives

Aesthetics—Engage the Integrated Design Process, Cost-Effective, Functional / Operational, Historic Preservation, Productive, Secure / Safe Branch, Sustainable

Products and Systems

Building Envelope Design Guide: Blast Safety, CBR Safety

Project Management

Building Commissioning, Project Planning, Delivery and Controls


LEED - DoD Antiterrorism Standards Tool

Federal Agencies