Chemical Security Is An Issue
- By Ralph C. Jensen
- May 01, 2006
THE American Chemistry Council took a bold step forward in March by acknowledging that chemical plants security should be paramount not only in the security industry, but also among plant operators in the chemical industry. The facts are that the private sector owns and operates most of the nation's chemical infrastructure.
At the National Chemical Security Forum, held in Washington, D.C., in March, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said that security at chemical plants is part of a larger effort now underway to ensure that the nation is generally raising security in all the elements of significant infrastructure.
Because the vast majority of chemical plants are privately owned, the notion that the federal government can own and operate all the security for all this infrastructure is misguided. What needs to happen is raising security in a way that it doesn't hamper the businesses the government is trying to protect.
What the government and the chemical industry want to do is protect this industry against being exploited by terrorists.
The history of al Qaeda is simple. Its goal is to leverage our own technology against ourselves. In other words, there is nothing they would like more than to use our own chemicals and our own products as a means of exploding devices against us.
According to Chertoff, many large chemical companies in this country have taken steps to ensure that they are elevating their own security, though not all chemical companies have done that. And the industry, in fact the whole country, is hostage to those few who do not undertake the responsibility that they have to make sure security is at an appropriate level.
Legislation on chemical infrastructure has been offered in the last three congressional sessions. So far, nothing has generated enough support to successfully push the legislation through. That means responsibility is squarely placed on the shoulders of private industry to elevate their own security measures. And, the government's role in this is to make sure that level of security is raised sufficiently to protect our citizens and to make sure that those who have put a responsible investment in are able to reap the benefits of that security investment.
On a recent visit to Louisiana, I toured Honeywell's Specialty Materials Chemical Plant in Geismar. At this plant, security and plant automation are foremost on the minds of employees.
A Major Investment
Honeywell's industrial plant in Geismar was challenged to provide a comprehensive security strategy for the facility. What they came up with is a state-of-the-art security and process control system where one works instantly with the other. In other words, when security officials are alerted that there is a breach, the process side of the facility knows at the same time, and proper measures can be taken instantly.
Rather than an afterthought, the Geismar plant employs a comprehensive strategy that seamlessly integrates the physical, electronic and cyber layers of security with building automation, security and process control systems by sharing real-time information.
Because the Geismar plant is on the Mississippi River, company officials have employed a "beyond the perimeter" surveillance systems, including radar tracking of vessels. The chemical plant can be vulnerable to an attack, but radar keeps an open eye, even when clouds or fog diminish river visibility.
The Real Issue
The real situation at the Geismar plant is chemicals. Layered strategy weaves security and protection into its pattern, but compromising the security here can affect hundreds and thousands of people. The escape of a product from the chemical plant, whether it be accidental or via terrorism, can spell trouble for Baton Rouge, La., residents. The plant manufactures refrigerants and blowing agents and is the largest production site for hydrofluoric acid in the United States.
Honeywell must implement a security plan consistent with the Coast Guard. Company officials exceeded that and began to initiate the upgrades. Honeywell spent about $3 million, some of it grant money from the Department of Homeland Security, to secure the facility. This also means that facility managers meet the regulations of the American Chemistry Council by implementing buffer-zone protection, upgraded security and a layered approach from the outside perimeter to one of three facility control rooms.
Plant manager Bill Lessig said it best, the "integration of process control security provides risk reduction and greater safety preparedness."
Safety is Part of the Picture
Implementing the practice of industrial safety is key to security. Employees are issued smart cards for mustering in the event of a security or process control breach. It also means security personnel and plant operators know exactly where each employee is, or at least, can be accounted for. It lets them track movements of employees so they can be found by first responders, who can be directed to the exact location, and find those who need help immediately.
Part of safety is plant management. If there is an intrusion or a reason to shut the plant down, it can be completed in minutes. Security and safety are part of the power of Honeywell.
The Geismar Solution
Honeywell put itself in a unique position by installing a best-in-class security solution. It owns its own chemical plants and understands the importance of security at these facilities.
The Geismar facility is the first of its kind. The defense seamlessly integrates physical, electronic and cyber layers of security with building automation, security and process control systems. This facility is a model for how industrial security can be put into practice, even during times of potential terror.
The reality is this: Seamless integration of multiple technologies can help properly secure an industrial site. Candid comments from Honeywell leadership prove that it's possible to integrate security with process control, building management and human resources for greater efficiency, safety and plant reliability.
We don't need to wait for a threat to become reality to understand the consequences of an attack. Public health and economic vitality are at the heart of security planning and implementation. What the government needs to do now is reward those who have already taken steps on a voluntary basis.