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DHS And Chemical Sector Convene

Summit highlights partnership as key to the regulation of chemical sector

by Rochelle F. H. Bohaty
August 11, 2008 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 86, Issue 32

Credit: Shutterstock
Chemical companies must submit data on their current security measures.
Credit: Shutterstock
Chemical companies must submit data on their current security measures.

STRESS LEVELS of chemical companies remain high as deadlines approach for facilities that are preliminarily deemed to be potential terrorist targets to submit data to the Department of Homeland Security. The data, which include elaborate details on facility location, on-site chemicals, security regulations, and consequence analysis, will be used by DHS to determine appropriate federal regulations.

To facilitate data collection and ease growing tensions, DHS and the Chemical Sector Coordinating Council—an organization representing 18 trade associations—hosted a two-and-a-half day meeting last month in Bethesda, Md. Approximately 400 stakeholders attended the 2008 Chemical Sector Security Summit. The meeting's main goal was to solidify the public-private partnership between DHS and the chemical industry by addressing industry questions and concerns about data collection and DHS's regulatory processes.

A secondary goal of the conference was to remind the chemical sector that the imminent regulations are meant to keep chemical facilities safe from real terrorist threats. Dan Cooler, senior intelligence officer in DHS's Office of Intelligence & Analysis, briefed summit participants on recent terrorist and antiterrorism activities. He said the U.S. is a difficult target for terrorists, but the threat remains viable, and "chemical facilities would meet strategic goals of terrorists."

DHS Assistant Secretary for Infrastructure Protection Robert B. Stephan told summit attendees that the preparations DHS is requiring chemical facilities to make because of terrorism concerns will also be useful in dealing with natural disasters and accidents.

The meeting came a few weeks after DHS completed the review of 32,000 plus chemical facilities, known as Top Screen. The program led to the identification of more than 7,000 facilities at high risk for terrorist attacks (C&EN, July 7, page 7). These facilities must submit additional security and vulnerability data to DHS. Summit attendees discussed the details of this next submission and how the information will be used to determine what regulations may be put in place.

The summit did make it clear that DHS is closing in on regulations that will change the way chemical facilities operate. "The past 100 years will seem like a walk in the park in comparison to the next decade," said Joseph Acker, president of the Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturers Association (SOCMA).

ALTHOUGH THE MEETING focused on what's next in DHS's regulatory process, the participants also raised some concern about the Top Screen process that led to the classification of some facilities as high risk. Specifically, some participants reported not yet receiving notification letters, whereas others reported having problems uploading the Top Screen data. DHS estimates that only a couple hundred facilities encountered the latter problem and are still considered pending.

Susan Armstrong, acting director of DHS's Infrastructure Security Compliance Division (ISCD), told C&EN after the meeting that DHS, which has worked very hard to create a positive working relationship with its stakeholders, is looking into all of the concerns raised.

Participants provided "good feedback for us at the summit," Armstrong said. She added that DHS is reaching out to the affected facilities on a case-by-case basis.

Maintaining a positive and cooperative partnership between DHS and the chemical sector was underscored by several presenters. It is critical in the implementation process of chemical facility regulations, according to summit organizers.

Representatives from the Coast Guard, Department of Transportation, New Jersey Office of Homeland Security & Preparedness, and SOCMA were just a few participants on hand who spoke in support of DHS's collaborative efforts. Acker said, "DHS remains a partner rather than solely a regulator. I applaud the department for recognizing that compliance can be and in most cases is best achieved through a cooperative spirit."

DHS is now focused on continued cooperation with the chemical sector to help it complete the next step in the regulatory process. In this step, chemical facilities identified by Top Screen as at risk must provide to DHS extensive information regarding assets, vulnerability, analysis of all possible attack scenarios, projected consequences, and security protocols.

The timeline for submitting this next round of data depends on the preliminary risk level assigned to the facility by Top Screen, DHS said. For example, the more than 200 highest risk facilities must complete this process by Sept. 25. Three more deadlines are staggered through the rest of this year corresponding to facilities at decreasing risk levels.

Summit participants voiced concern about meeting DHS's deadlines because of the sheer volume of time and resources required to comply. One summit attendee was displeased with the time it took to complete the security and vulnerability analysis. He said it took him significantly more time then the proposed 250 hours DHS suggested for just one asset at one facility.

Because of these concerns, some attendees raised the idea of deadline extensions to DHS. But the agency was reluctant to agree to extensions during the summit.

"The deadline is just that—a deadline. If there is a request for an extension, we will entertain it. But if, down the road, there is an outright refusal, we will have to look into enforcement," Armstrong told C&EN in an interview following the summit.

One tool that DHS hopes will facilitate submission of security and vulnerability data is an online portal. The portal provides a systematic means to input data with drop-down menus, integrated maps, and text domains into which descriptions can be inserted.

Summit participants were dissatisfied with the speed of the browser when it stalled during a demonstration of the online portal. One attendee called this "a common feature" of the portal. The DHS consultant leading the demo said this was the first time he encountered this problem, but he warned that such slowdowns may only get worse as deadlines approach and more users access the site.

Once the additional safety and vulnerablity information is received, DHS will review it and assign a final risk ranking. At that point, each ranked facility will be required to develop a security plan. The details of the plans were also addressed at the summit.

A facility's security plan must take into account risk-based performance standards (RBPS) identified by DHS. The gamut of RBPS includes site access, employee background checks, cyberspace security, record-keeping of all kinds, and training of security personnel and first responders. DHS will need to approve each plan. Agency officials said an approved plan will be the result of a two-way effort between DHS and each facility.

Credit: DHS
Credit: DHS

An approved security plan will institute preventive measures, describe counteraction, and provide response measures that specifically address RBPS specified by DHS. Security plans are not meant to be prescriptive, according to DHS officials. Each facility is unique; therefore, each company will be allowed to advocate for security measures that address their specific situations, the agency said.

At the summit, Cooler told chemical facility representatives, "You want to make your facility look as undesirable [to terrorists] as possible through robust security postures." For example, he and representatives from private sector security firms noted that facilities should consider installing cameras and barriers, as well as hiring well-trained guards.

DHS also expressed a desire to learn more about the economic vulnerability of the U.S. supply chain at the summit. "We are commissioning an economic model of the supply chain," Armstrong told C&EN. DHS wants to build its security agenda "to the point where we are taking into account facilities that play a key role in the health of the national economy," she added.

Armstrong confirms that the supply-chain analysis will be useful in reviewing how high-risk facilities are ranked. The analysis is slated to start in 2009.

At the summit, Armstrong said that DHS plans to "work with other agencies to create a unified approach" to make it easier for companies to comply with regulations.

Joint inspections with other regulatory agencies are a possibility that DHS is exploring. In these inspections, representatives from multiple agencies would visit a facility at the same time. Each agency would be responsible for citing violations to respective regulations. The goal of these joint inspections would be to reduce industry burdens that accompany multiple inspection logistics.

Security and vulnerability information gathered from inspections will be used to corroborate the data received by DHS. According to the agency, initial inspections will focus on compliance assistance and will begin early next year.

DHS is actively training inspectors and says it should have at least 80 inspectors ready by the time inspections begin. DHS plans to open several regional facilities to accommodate the inspection process.

DHS IS DEDICATED to providing highly trained inspectors to help create a consistent and seamless inspection process for all regulated facilities, according to Wade R. Townsend, branch chief of Inspection & Enforcement at ISCD, and John T. Walker, ISCD federal protective service physical security specialist.

Townsend promised that facilities will be notified well in advance of a pending inspection in a "preinspection letter." Inspectors will be in direct contact with each facility in order to coordinate the inspection. Walker said DHS officials understand plant shutdowns, maintenance, and business operations, and will have a flexible timetable. During the inspection, inspectors will provide feedback directly to facility representatives, and remarks will be sent to DHS.

As DHS officials look to the future, they told summit participants that changes are inevitable, especially with a new presidential Administration. Nevertheless, agency officials believe that the next Administration will not want to ruin the public-private partnership DHS has established with the chemical sector.

In closing, Stephan advised the crowd against slotting into a holding pattern until a next Administration takes shape. Instead, he charged industry with helping DHS keep the partnership going through the transition. "We are not treading water until Jan. 20, we are swimming at Olympic pace," Stephan said.


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