Laws May Force Plants to Upgrade Security

Whether by DHS or EPA, oversight is likely

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Two bills before Congress are designed to force chemical plants to improve security against terrorist attacks. Although most of the attention is given to limiting access to the plant, improving security of networks and process control systems is also required.

The White House and Sen. James Inhoffe (R-Okla.) want the Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) to assume responsibility for chemical plant security. The Chemical Facilities Security Act (S.994), introduced by Inhoffe and Zell Miller (D-Ga.) on May 5, proposes stiff fines for chemical plants that fail to follow security plans set up by the HSD.

According to the April 25 New York Times, the Inhoffe/Zell bill requires thousands of chemical sites to assess their vulnerability and their response plans to terrorist attack. It urges companies to conduct background checks of employees, allows the DHS to fine companies that fail to comply up to $250,000, and empowers courts to penalize companies $50,000 or more per day.

Last year, Sen. John Corzine (D-N.J.) set the process industry on its ear when he introduced new legislation that would put the EPA in charge. The web site for the National Petrochemical and Refiners Assn. (www.NPRAdc.org), explains that Sen. Corzine introduced a "chemical security" amendment (S.1602) to the Homeland Security Act of 2002. That amendment would have given EPA broad regulatory authority for security at refineries, chemical plants, other manufacturing sites, and agricultural facilities.

Industry did not like the Corzine bill.

"In addition to NPRA, a majority of members of Congress, the manufacturing industry, small business, and the agricultural community opposed the amendment because of their belief that the authority should reside with DHS," says the NPRA.

The Corzine bill is still alive, but industry opposition keeps it bottled up.

The Public Interest Research Group is a supporter of the Corzine bill. "Despite industry claims of boosted protections, security at most chemical facilities ranges from poor to non-existent," said the PIRGs web site in 2002. "A reporter for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review found that at chemical sites in Baltimore, Houston, and Western Pennsylvania, an intruder could walk through chemical storage facilities completely unchallenged."

Sen. Corzine, in an address to Congress this past November, said, "There are literally thousands of chemical facilities in the United States where a chemical release could expose tens of thousands of Americans to highly toxic gases. That is why these facilities are potentially so attractive to terrorists. If one goes to a chemical facility in Israel, they will see it protected by a security infrastructure that is not unlike what one would see at a nuclear power plant in the United States."

In June 2002, the American Chemistry Council (www.americanchemistry.com) made enhanced security measures mandatory for its members under the chemical industrys Responsible Care doctrine.

"The chemical industry has moved swiftly to adopt a security code that is designed to make America more secure by safeguarding our plants, property, products, and information from terrorist or criminal attack and sabotage," said Michael E. Campbell, chairman of ACC's Committee on Responsible Care.

The Security Code (available on the ACC web site) specifically calls for chemical companies to apply security practices to data networks, telecommunications, digitally connected business partners, and "put new controls on access to digital process control systems."

All 165 member companies in the ACC reported they had completed site vulnerability assessments for their 120 highest priority facilities by Dec. 31, 2002, as required.

Some CONTROL readers have been following the ACC guidelines, with security efforts ranging from mild to wild.

Ronald Bruton, process engineer at ERCO Worldwide, Valdosta, Ga., reports his small facility increased security for the front office and normal plant entrance by having a wall and security door installed. "We intend to audit ourselves against the ACC security standards and address any deficiencies noted," he says.

"We have upgraded our plant security policy and have made security a top priority for all personnel," says Tony Murray, director, information technologies at Washington Quality Foods, Halethorpe, Md. "All non-essential doors and windows have been permanently closed with cinder block. Additional outdoor lighting has been installed in vulnerable areas around the plant. We also are in the process of installing biometric access control devices at all employee entrances to our buildings."

Not all of our readers are in favor of more government regulations.

"We are taking the threat seriously and have responded," says Don Erb, manager of production planning at Ciba Specialty Chemicals, McIntosh, Ala. "My fear is passing regulations can be shortsighted and lead to wasted efforts. I recall regulations requiring us to lock up hazardous wastes, when they were mild hazards compared to some raw materials, which we handle more carefully without a law requiring us to do so."

Erb also points out such laws can be counterproductive. "We may already have posed a far larger threat of terrorist attack when we were required by yet another law to have our best people research what a worst-case scenario would be, and then publish it so the general public would know," laments Erb. "We gave the terrorists a how-to instruction book with that plan. Hopefully not many were paying attention."

"I just finished a design for a security upgrade for a small local chemical facility, and I know larger facilities in the area are proactively reviewing and increasing security," says Mike Luffey, P.E., vice president and electrical engineer at DeSoto County Electric, Horn Lake, Miss. He disagrees with new rules in principle. "The government should step in only when the private sector fails to act and broad interests are involved. My experience has been that less legislation properly focused shows better results."

One anonymous source in the Senate told us parts of the Corzine bill probably will be included into the Inhoffe bill, and the combined bill will cruise through Congress without much opposition.

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