Protecting the Chemical Plant

The chemical industry looks for new technologies, legislation and procedures to secure its sensitive facilities.


Prior to the events of September 11, 2001, the chemical industry worried most about malicious vandalism, theft and an accidental toxic release caused by unauthorized people entering a chemical-producing facility. The threat of terrorism was perceived as a domestic problem, labeled "environmental terrorism," perpetrated by radicals who perceive the chemical industry as the enemy.

Certainly, malicious vandalism has plagued the chemical industry in the past. This writer first became aware of security issues in chemical plants long before the threat of terrorism became the primary security concern. I was called to a San Francisco Bay-area chemical facility to recommend perimeter protection measures for a tank containing a chemical used in the formulation of an agricultural compound. The chemical happens to be one of the primary ingredients in the making of methamphetamines. The plant is near a densely populated urban area where illegal drug labs are not uncommon, and they were concerned that the extremely explosive chemical could cause a conflagration if illegal drug makers accessed the tank and siphoned off a few liters of the substance.

Since then, the potential for international terrorism has drastically changed how security is perceived and implemented in America's chemical industry.

Industry Efforts
The mass media has reported that the chemical industry has done little to protect against the threat of terrorism. But the industry took immediate action to increase plant security following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The American Chemistry Council's Board of Directors adopted a new Security Code as part of its Responsible Care' program, which has been in place for more than 16 years. Since 1988, members of the American Chemistry Council (ACC) have significantly improved their environmental, health, safety and, in recent years, security performance through the Responsible Care initiative. Participation in Responsible Care is mandatory for ACC member companies, all of which have made CEO-level commitments to uphold the following requirements:

  • Measuring and publicly reporting performance;
  • Implementing the Responsible Care Security Code;
  • Applying the Responsible Care Management System to achieve and verify results; and
  • Obtaining independent certification that a management system is in place and functions according to professional standards.

Responsible Care is also a global initiative that is practiced in 47 countries that share a common commitment to advancing the safe and secure management of chemical products and processes. Specific Responsible Care practices may vary from country to country, since they are determined by each country's laws and national industry association.

The code requires every ACC member to conduct security vulnerability assessments, implement appropriate security countermeasures and have them certified by an outside party. In a 2004 report to former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, the ACC stated that more than 1,900 ACC member facilities had completed rigorous security vulnerability assessments, the highest-priority facilities had already implemented security enhancements, and the remaining facilities were on schedule to implement security measures by the end of 2004. A number of chemical companies that are not members of ACC have similar commitments to security and uphold the principles of Responsible Care.

The American Petroleum Institute and the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association developed the Security Vulnerability Assessment methodology for its members. The tool is intended to help maintain and strengthen the security of personnel, facilities, and industry operations, thereby enhancing the security of our nation's energy infrastructure. The methodology is in concert with the goals of the Environmental Protection Agency to deter, detect, delay and respond.

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