Top US official says chemical site security plan has problems

31 July 2012 16:19  [Source: ICIS news]

The DHS emblemBALTIMORE, Maryland (ICIS)--A top-ranking federal security official on Tuesday conceded that the five-year-old government programme to ensure chemical facilities are protected against terrorist attacks is having problems, but he said that progress is being made.

Rand Beers, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) undersecretary responsible for the department’s National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD), told a chemicals industry conference that “we have had challenges” in getting the programme operational.

The programme, the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS), was set up in 2007 under a congressional mandate, designed to establish security benchmarks that plant operators were to meet in order reduce if not eliminate the risk of attacks by terrorists seeking to cause massive off-site casualties by targeting a chemical plant.

But, as revealed in an internal audit late last year and in subsequent congressional hearings, the CFATS programme is far behind schedule. 

The audit, aired in part at congressional hearings, found widespread personnel and training problems, inadequate equipment in some instances and purchase of unneeded gear in other cases.

Five years into the programme, one of its most essential features – on-site inspection of chemical facility security measures – has yet to begin at any significant level, according to industry officials.

Speaking at the sixth annual Chemical Sector Security Summit (CSSS), Beers said that the department had experienced problems in getting a complex programme up and running, “but we will learn from those lessons and move on”.

He said that an action plan developed from last year’s audit identified 95 areas that needed improvement in the department’s implementation of CFATS, ranging from personnel realignment and training to the manner in which the department interacts with industry.

“I can report to you today that 60% of those action items have been completed, and we have begun inspections, and with the right equipment and training for those who are doing the inspections,” Beers said.

 He said the department also had established “a thorough and robust training programme for inspectors” who will be visiting chemical plant sites.

“We have made a lot of progress with CFATS,” Beers said, “and we are already seeing results.”

He noted that of the original 7,000-some US chemical production, transit or storage sites initially identified as potentially at high risk for a terrorist attack, about 1,600 have eliminated on-site storage or use of “chemicals of concern”, and another 700 sites have substantially reduced their inventories of such substances. 

About 4,500 facilities remain subject to CFATS-related requirements and inspections.

However, the elimination of those 1,600 potential target sites occurred fairly early in the programme, and industry officials remain concerned that the critical on-site inspections function has yet to be implemented and may face further delays.

Cosponsored by DHS and the industry-based Chemical Sector Co-ordinating Council (CSCC), the summit runs through Wednesday.

By: Joe Kamalick
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