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Chemical Facility Security Program Improves

Anti-Terrorism: Department of Homeland Security effort still faces challenges, congressional investigators find

by Glenn Hess
August 3, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 31

After years of criticism about delays, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has ramped up its rate of reviewing and approving security plans prepared by “high-risk” chemical facilities, a congressional report says.

These facilities, which would pose the greatest danger if attacked, must prepare and implement the security plans under the department’s eight-year-old Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) program.

The report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress, estimates that it could take between nine and 12 months for DHS to review security plans for the remaining 900 chemical sites awaiting approval. That’s a significant improvement over GAO’s 2013 estimate that department approval of plans for all affected facilities could take as long as nine years to complete.

Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, the top Democrat on the Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs, says the report “shows DHS has made real progress” on CFATS.

But the report also says the program has other problems.

DHS has used unverified data to calculate the risk level posed by some facilities, GAO says. The report estimates that about 44% of the high-risk facilities may have misreported the scope of the area surrounding the facility that could be at risk if a toxic release occurred there.

Some 2,900 of the 37,000 U.S. chemical facilities that have provided data to DHS could pose a threat of exposing surrounding populations to toxics if attacked by terrorists, GAO adds.


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