Citing the high number of potential terrorist targets in Gloucester County, county prosecutor Sean Dalton announced yesterday that local law enforcement agencies, private industry and utilities would work together to improve security.
Working under the name the Gloucester County Security Initiative, local police departments and as many as 50 representatives of area chemical plants, refineries and other facilities will meet monthly to discuss how to prevent possible attacks and how to be prepared in the event of a catastrophe.
"We hope to address all areas that will make plants safer for our residents," Dalton said. "We're going to try to get everyone on the same page, working together."
Gloucester County is home to four of the seven industrial facilities in the Philadelphia region that have high levels of hazardous chemicals. Among them is Valero Energy Corp.'s Greenwich refinery, which will participate in the new partnership.
At a news conference yesterday, Logan Police Chief Mike Smith stressed the importance of opening up channels of communication between industrial facilities and police departments.
"We see a very strong need to implement training and communication," Smith said. "We need to be able to reach out to businesses."
Dalton said the initiative would help identify areas where security improvements can be made, but he added that participation by industry would be voluntary.
"We have been pleasantly surprised by the fact that all major industries in Gloucester County want to participate," he said.
The state Department of Environmental Protection has been developing a statewide security program with chemical trade groups and other industry sectors potentially vulnerable to terrorism. The plan, which is still under review, would draw on industry-created guidelines approved by Gov. McGreevey in September 2003.
Dalton said the county's effort would be coordinated with the state program.
A debate has raged over the last several years locally and in Washington over how best to secure chemical plants and other facilities with hazardous substances. Industry representatives have maintained that they have made their facilities safer after 9/11, while critics have said that gaping holes remain and that mandatory security standards are needed.
Robert E. Lee III, plant security manager for Valero Energy Corp.'s Greenwich refinery, said the plant was undergoing a $3.7 million security upgrade, which would include new gates, new cameras, added fencing, and new security buildings.
Jim Young, the special-projects director of the New Jersey Work Environment Council, an alliance of 67 environmental, labor and community organizations, said that plants with dangerous substances should be required to consider safer technologies.
"We have a firm position that inherent safety should be part of any initiative to safeguard chemical facilities," Young said.
Valero Energy Corp. signed an agreement with a California air-monitoring agency in February 2003 to implement safer technology at its Los Angeles-area refinery, at a cost of about $30 million.
The refinery uses potentially lethal hydrogen fluoride to make high-octane gas. Valero is evaluating the possibility of using the safer technology at its Greenwich refinery, spokeswoman Claire Riggs said.