Protecting the Chemical Plant

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


Tools for Chemical Facilities
The security tools available to chemical producers have dramatically improved since the 9/11 attacks. Digital video recorders with video motion detectors allow surveillance of critical areas. Security personnel can view events in real time and re-enact events leading up to a critical point without time-consuming tape rewinding. Wireless access controls allow the installation of networked access controls on perimeter portals that previously required underground cabling or were inaccessible. Explosion-proof enclosures allow placement of electronic surveillance and intrusion detection systems in hazardous and explosive areas.

Stereo Doppler motion detectors placed at the tops of towers detect persons climbing ladders, yet they do not alarm due to normal events such as falling rain. Ram-resistant fencing with integral motion sensors give early warning of intruders while reducing the incidence of nuisance alarms. Guard tour and muster procedures have become electronic through the use of real-time wireless tour-tracking systems and biometric verification terminals. Nearly every manufacturer of security hardware and systems has an application in the chemical industry. But is technology all that's needed to harden these high-profile targets?

Community-Based Policing
Ken Michaelis, CPP, CFE is the security manager of a leading chemical company with more than 25 years of experience in this field. He suggests a bold program wherein community-based policing would greatly increase security in and around chemical plants when blended with an array of new advances in technology. The basic concept is simple: Chemical plants are a neighborhood, and the facilities and the people who work in them are part of a community. Law enforcement personnel know the neighborhood. They can spot a person who does not belong to the community and investigate. Michaelis said, "If someone is perched on a hilltop with long-range photography equipment pointed toward a chemical plant, local law enforcement would want to investigate."

Michaelis cited a precedent for his faith in this system. "In the late '60s and early '70s we learned a lesson during the era of university campus riots and protests against the Vietnam War. Essentially, it was the awareness that arms-length law enforcement functions did not work in the university communities. The concept of community-based policing was tested with overwhelming success. In that setting, bicycles and lots of face time with the students and potential protestors turned the powder keg environment into a safer community. Ironically, it was safer for the law enforcement officers because they began to know the people, places and customs, and even make some friends. Eventually there were no more destroyed police cars or sniper rounds fired.

"Isn't it reasonable to think about these highly sensitive environments in a new way?" Michaelis continued. "I believe our industrial corridors are a community unto themselves. They impact neighborhoods that have grown up around them and are a significant part of the municipality, wherever they are. I believe these situations speak well for the concept of creating law enforcement substations in these areas around the country and basing a team of officers there that are seen often and can learn about us. They would soon understand what and who may look out of place. They would come to know our neighborhood alleyways and our regulars and know who to ask to verify information they may receive if they saw or heard something unusual. Community-based policing would provide long-term, enduring and meaningful preventative security in an area that is critical and of a mutual concern."

The concept of community-based policing can produce positive results. However, the first hurdle to implementing it is financial. In the face of shrinking tax revenues and governmental cost cutting, particularly at the community level, available personnel and assets available for law enforcement are already stretched to the limit. Revenue-strapped cities even resort to borrowing law enforcement personnel from neighboring communities to quell crime waves.

Legislation on the Docket
The U.S. government has wrestled with chemical plant security since the 2001 terrorist acts. Senate bill S.1602, the Chemical Security Act of 2001, introduced by Jon Corzine (D-NJ), proposed regulations to the chemical industry to protect against acts of terrorism. However, the bill included no appropriations. Further, while proposed legislation and amendments include provisions for dealing with accidental release, early warning and environmental issues, anti-terrorist security measures are nearly lost in the dialog.