A hearing conducted last week on chemical security found witnesses agreed that the government's regulatory scheme has been a success, although government and chemical industry officials squared off on whether mandating safer technologies or processes is smart public policy .
A hearing conducted last week on chemical security found witnesses agreed that the government's regulatory scheme has been a success, although government and chemical industry officials squared off on whether mandating safer technologies or processes is smart public policy.
Under the Chemical Facility Anti-terrorism Standards (CFATS) program, chemical facilities work with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to develop a security program based on a facility’s risk level. The program, which was established in 2007, will expire at the end of this year. Lawmakers from the House's Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection, and Security Technologies Subcommittee called upon witnesses to give their opinions of the program and recommend whether it should be made permanent.
Rand Beers, undersecretary of the national protection and programs directorate for the DHS, testified about the CFATS program and its successes. According to Beers, the program covers 4,755 high-risk facilities across all 50 states. Of these, more than 4,000 have submitted security plans and DHS is currently in the process of reviewing these plans. To help guide facilities, DHS has completed more than 175 inspections of high-risk facilities in advance of approving security plans.
“The department intends to use these initial inspections to help gain a comprehensive understanding of the processes, risks, vulnerabilities, response capabilities, security measures and practices, and any other factors that may be in place at a regulated facility that affect security risk in order to help facilities submit a [security plan] that can be approved under CFATS,” said Beers.
Representatives for chemical facilities praised the government’s efforts and expressed support for the CFATS program.
Timothy J. Scott, chief security officer and corporate director of emergency services and security for The Dow Chemical Company, spoke on behalf of Dow and the American Chemistry Council. Scott called CFATS a success. He attributed this success to the fact that security is addressed in context and that the specific needs of each facility are taken into account.
“The accountability within the program drives facilities to consider all potential risk-reduction options, including potential process safety improvements, when developing a site security plan,” said Scott. “Just as important, it leaves the decision of how to meet the standards to the site’s discretion and subject to DHS approval of the site security plan. The result is a security plan approved by DHS that is uniquely and appropriately designed by the site to address the specific risk issues of each individual facility and meet the performance standards of DHS.”
However, Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA), chairman of the subcommittee, expressed concern over CFATS's emphasis on inherently safer technologies (IST), a concept where the types of chemicals or processes used are altered to reduce the security risk. “IST isn’t something you can buy off the shelf or simply plug in," he said. "It is a concept, a not very well understood concept at that.”
Witnesses disagreed on the issue.
Beers advocated that all high risk chemical facilities should assess IST methods and report those assessments in the site security plans. Beers also noted that facilities posing the highest degree of risk should be required to implement IST if such methods “demonstrably enhance overall security, are determined to be feasible, and, in the case of water sector facilities, consider public health and environmental requirements.”
Scott noted that mandating the use of any particular security method, including IST, would undermine the very feature that makes CFATS a success. “The program is predicated on the idea that performance standards are the regulatory tool of choice for ensuring security, as they can be met by the facility selecting from a variety of layered security measures that best suit that specific facility.”
M. Sam Mannan, regents professor and director of chemical engineering at Texas A&M University, argued that mandating IST could backfire, making facilities less secure. He notes that designing IST into a facility is a complex task and, in many cases, could result in unintended consequences that result in more risk or simply transfer the risk elsewhere.
Mannan noted, for example, that replacing chlorine with a less combustible sodium hypochlorite could be considered a IST success. However, sodium hypochlorite is manufactured from chlorine, thus the risk has merely been transferred to another facility. Furthermore, unlike chlorine, sodium hypochlorite decomposes into perchlorates, which are toxic to humans.
Mannan also noted that IST is most successful when factored into the planning stages making it impractical for most facilities. “Because inherent safety is an intrinsic feature of the design, it is best implemented early in the design of a process plant…the U.S. has a huge base of installed process plants and little new construction,” said Mannan.
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