UNHCEMS® Offers Colleges A Solution To New DHS Chemical Standard
By Matthew Gianino, Institute on Disability / UCED
February 6, 2008
Universities and colleges throughout the U.S. are scrambling to meet the government’s
latest edict on campus security. To comply with the Department of Homeland
Security’s Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards, campus safety
officials must file an exhaustive report on the quantity and location of approximately
300 “chemicals of interest.”
A web-deployed chemical inventory management system developed by UNH, UNHCEMS®,
can help campus safety officials prepare the preliminary “Top-Screen” report
which federal officials will use to assess the level of risk of a terrorist
The Top-Screen questionnaire is 111 pages long and takes an estimated 30 hours
to complete, according to the DHS website. Critical information includes the
concentration and amount of certain chemicals under various danger scenarios
(release, theft or attack), location of storage or use, or under transport.
Without an automated inventory system, campus staff must assess each chemical
in every laboratory and manually record and tabulate the data according to
DHS standards, which vary according to the chemical and how it could be used.
“While some (academics) adhere to broad security strategies, others
admitted having an incomplete or non-existent inventory of the contents and
quantities of chemicals and no affordable or timely means of compiling an inventory,” reads
a statement by DHS in the Nov. 20, 2007 Federal Register (vol. 72, no. 223).
Law requires compliance within 60 days of that issue of the Federal Register;
however, extensions could be requested.
A new module for UNHCEMS (UNH Chemical Environmental Management System) software
automatically tabulates data, converts liquid units to pounds, and indicates
to safety officials whether the DHS quantity threshold has been met, or whether
there is a problem with data logic. “The UNHCEMS report greatly reduces
the time and effort to complete the Top-Screen report and assures us that we
are in compliance,” said Brad Manning, director of UNH Office of Environmental
Health and Safety.
Designed for the academic environment with a low annual subscription fee,
UNHCEMS is cited in the 2006 Best Management Practices for Colleges and Universities
publication of the federal Environmental Protection Agency. It is in use at
the College of the Holy Cross, Brown University, University of Massachusetts
at Amherst, University of Alabama, throughout the University System of New
Hampshire, and at two large high schools.
UNHCEMS is a barcode-based system to record and manage information about the
quantity, location and properties of chemical stock, biological agents, radioactive
materials and hazardous waste. It automates record-keeping and waste removal
requests, allows campus labs to share materials, and can broadcast messages.
Campus safety officials can use UNHCEMS to provide periodic reports to emergency
service providers. Equipped with this information, a dispatcher can tell firefighters
or hazmat teams en route to the scene of a spill or fire whether the chemicals
in a lab are flammable, water reactive, corrosive or explosive, and furthermore,
what chemicals are in surrounding rooms, allowing them to prepare a response
before they arrive.
With UNHCEMS, lab staff can print door signs with symbols required by the
National Fire Protection Association and search a Material Safety Data Sheets
archive of more than 23,000 documents, updated regularly. Other features are
a radioactive usage log and custom reports for compliance and alert conditions.
Inventory updates can be performed quickly with a hand-held PC and HandyCEMS
software. UNHCEMS is not a purchasing system but it can be modified by self-hosted
licensees to add a procurement module, customize categories and add reporting
The system runs on Windows 2000/XP or Linux and all software requirements
can be met with free, open-source software. Specific hardware is not required
although most sites run UNHCEMS on a dedicated server.
At UNH, all incoming shipments are delivered to a central receiving station
for barcoding and data entry, with delivery to the lab within hours. A key
factor in the rollout and effective use of UNHCEMS is the appointment of a
database administrator to manage implementation and maintenance.
“Each user needs a ‘champion’ who can oversee the integration
of UNHCEMS, provide on-site user support and training, and act as primary contact
for that campus,” said Patrick Messer, associate director of the UNH
Research Computing Center, which developed and administers the program.
More information is on the UNHCEMS website, www.cems-info.sr.unh.edu. For
licensing inquiries, contact Maria Emanuel, licensing manager, UNH Office for
Research Partnerships and Commercialization, 2-4377, firstname.lastname@example.org.