A Clear Shot at Chemical Plant Security

Article excerpt

TRAVELING UP A RIVER after a day deep-sea photographing in the Gulf of Mexico, Neal Langerman, principal scientist with Advanced Chemical Safety and an officer of the division of chemical health and safety of the American Chemical Society, snapped a photo of a very large chemical plant. It occurred to Langerman that if he were a terrorist, armed with a shoulder-fired rocket-propelled grenade and not a camera, he could cause significant damage while floating safely off shore.

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"An attack on a chemical facility, while it won't have the morbidity and mortality that other kinds of incidents will have, it will really terrify people. That's what it's all about," says Langerman. The impact from such an attack, he says, would probably be very localized, but it would instill great fear in the public.

As one of the 17 industries identified as critical infrastructure, the chemical industry's assets are viewed as terrorist targets. But unlike nuclear and drinking water facilities, the chemical industry is generally not subject to any federal security requirements.

A Government Accountability Office report that evaluated a draft of the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS's) Chemical Sector-Specific Plan notes that "DHS has relied primarily on the voluntary participation of the private sector to address facility security. As a result, DHS cannot ensure that all high-risk facilities are assessing their vulnerability to terrorist attacks and taking corrective actions, where necessary."

Self-regulation isn't necessarily bad, says Daniel J. Ostergaard, former executive director of the Homeland Security Advisory Council and a partner at Phoenix Strategies, a consulting and development firm in Washington, D.C. "No one knows better than the industry how best to protect itself," he says.

And, indeed, industry groups have proactively pushed for better security among their own members. As the GAO points out, three leading chemical associations--the American Chemistry Council, the National Association of Chemical Distributors, and the Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturers Association--require vulnerability assessments, risk mitigation plans, and third-party verification of security enhancements as a qualification of membership. Nonetheless, GAO auditors maintain that "additional legislation is needed to give DHS the authority to require security improvements at these facilities."

To that end, Senator Susan M. Collins (R-ME), who chairs the Senate Homeland Security Committee, has introduced a bill, the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Act of 2005, that seeks to impose better security regulation on the industry. The legislation sets criteria for designating chemical sources and facilities and directs DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff to set up a tiered risk-based system that "enables a chemical source to develop appropriate site-specific measures to meet the security performance standards established for the applicable tier."

According to a representative from Collins's office, the bill is a priority for the senator, but as this issue went to press, the bill had not come before the Senate for a vote. …