FocusUS chem sector sees itself as safer nine years after 9/11

10 September 2010 23:54  [Source: ICIS news]

By Joe Kamalick

US chemical plants still under scrutiny 9 years after 9-11WASHINGTON (ICIS)--Nine years after the September 2001 terrorist attacks, the US chemicals industry is much better protected against terror strikes and probably leads other key US infrastructure sectors in security, industry officials said on Friday.

“We are in a far different place than nine years ago,” said Scott Jensen, spokesman and security specialist at the American Chemistry Council (ACC).

Noting that the council’s member companies have spent some $8bn (€6.32bn) on security improvements since 2001, Jensen said that “We have a better understanding of the risks and vulnerabilities because of our industry’s own programmes and through government regulations”.

Jensen also pointed out that of the 18 critical infrastructure sectors identified by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as needing beefed-up protections, the chemicals industry is the only one whose security is directly regulated by the department.

DHS was given a mandate and authority by Congress in 2006 to establish and monitor security criteria at the nation’s chemical plants in order to reduce their vulnerability to an attack by terrorists seeking mass civilian casualties.

The department’s resulting Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) have been ramped up over the last four years and are expected to be extended for at least another year until Congress can settle on a permanent, long-term plan.

Because of the department’s close work with the chemicals sector under CFATS, Jensen holds that his industry may be ahead of the 17 other critical infrastructures.

Under CFATS, the department sets security standards for some 5,000 chemical facilities deemed to be at high risk for terrorist attack, but owners and operators determine what specific security measures to implement to meet those standards. The industry’s efforts are subject to department review and correction, however.

“Some of the things that the chemicals industry is doing are being used by DHS as models in working with other infrastructure areas,” Jensen said, citing utilities as one.

Like the chemicals sector, the electric utilities industry has large facilities that often are sited amid or near dense population centres.  And, because utilities are highly automated like chemical plants, the two industries share vulnerabilities to cyber attacks, he said.

Among the other 17 critical infrastructure and key resources (CIKR) identified by federal officials for improved antiterrorism security needs are agriculture, dams, energy, banking and finance, communications, information technology, transportation and shipping.

Lawrence Sloan, president of the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA), said that his specialty chemicals industry “has worked hard collaboratively with DHS to raise awareness of the existing threats among chemical companies, and these businesses have a much stronger approach to security than they did ten years ago”.

Sloan said that the co-operative approach taken by the private sector and the federal government has flourished in the last several years.

“Case in point, through the Chemical Sector Coordinating Council on which SOCMA serves, DHS has reached out to industry through SOCMA to build engagement with voluntary exercises, programmes and resources,” Sloan said.

According to DHS officials, diversion of weapons-capable chemicals and cyber attacks on industry facilities probably rank as the most likely forms of potential terrorist action against chemical facilities, although truck-bombs and other conventional violent assaults remain a threat.

“DHS has placed a great emphasis on cybersecurity awareness in recent years and has focussed outreach to this industry,” Sloan said.  “The threat of cyber-related attacks is real and must continue to be given as high a priority as more conventional tactics.”

Despite the ongoing public-private cooperation in chemical site security, some in Congress contend that the chemicals industry is still far too vulnerable, and they want changes.

Sponsors of pending legislation in Congress want DHS security rules for chemical sites to include authority to order the use of inherently safer technology (IST), for example, by ordering the reduction or elimination of certain dangerous substances at specific sites or by forcing operators to use lower temperature and pressure processes.

Both ACC and SOCMA oppose an IST mandate.

Sloan said that his group feels that the current CFATS programme is working so effectively “that we’d like to see it extended permanently”.

Both trade groups and other industry associations support legislation sponsored by Senator Susan Collins (Republican-Maine) that would extend the existing regulatory system for three more years.

A vote on that bill may come within weeks, if only because the existing CFATS provisions will otherwise expire at the end of September.

($1 = €0.79)

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By: Joe Kamalick
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