Protecting Chemical Plants from Catastrophic Failures, Part 1

Chemical plant security expert William Wayman offers information on security standards and legislation, and an analysis of industry practices


In June 2002, the ACC adopted the Responsible Care Security Code, which is a mandatory managing guideline for all ACC members and Responsible Care Partner companies. The Security Code - which addresses site, cyber and transportation security concerns - requires companies to conduct comprehensive security threat and vulnerability assessments of their sites, to implement security enhancements to control or mitigate identified vulnerabilities, and to obtain independent verification that appropriate enhancements have been made. A strict timeline for complying with this code also is required.

The three major points of the Security Code are:

  • Prioritize and Assessment: Companies prioritize their sites according to a four-tier system that uses vulnerability as the key criterion. Security vulnerability assessments (SVAs) are scheduled at all facilities according to the prioritization process.

  • Implementation: After completing the SVA process, companies implement security enhancements designed to control or mitigate the identified risks. The following steps are taken:

    • Protect Information and Cyber-Security: Protecting information and process control systems is a crucial element of good security management and a fundamental principal of the Security Code.

    • Training, Drills and Guidance: Emergency preparedness is a key feature of the Responsible Care initiative. Training, drills and guidance are offered to employees, contractors, emergency responders and other personnel in order to enhance security awareness and maximize the facility's response capabilities.

    • Communications, Dialogue and Information Exchange: Communications emphasizes cooperation among chemical producers, customers, suppliers, shippers and government agencies.

    • Response to Security Threats and Incidents: Companies evaluate, respond report, and communicate security threats as appropriate. Security incidents trigger a similar process, but include additional steps such as the conducting of an investigation and the taking of corrective action.

    • Continuous Improvement: This includes planning, establishing goals and objectives, monitoring progress and performance, analysis of trends, and development and implementation of corrective actions.

  • Independent Verification: Facilities undergo independent audits by credible third parties to assure that they have implemented necessary security enhancements.

According to an ACC Fact Sheet (published in May 2004), chemical companies have made and kept significant operational commitments. The Fact Sheet states that all Responsible Care facilities (more than 2,000 nationwide) have completed thorough security vulnerability assessments. The Fact Sheet goes on to note that the highest-priority facilities (Tier 1) have already implemented security enhancements where appropriate, and that the remaining facilities are on schedule to implement additional security measures by the end of 2004.

Completion of this commitment could not be verified at the time of writing this article. The ACC states, however, that full implementation of the Code will be completed by June 30, 2005. Regardless, a statement published by the ACC in April 2004 noted that its members had invested more $800 million in 2003 alone to enhance security at their facilities.

Beyond hardening of their facilities, chemical companies also began to look for safer, less toxic, or volatile products that would provide the same quality and properties as their more dangerous predecessors. This approach typically carries a very high initial cost to chemical producers and users, but if successful it can pay off in many ways: providing a safer workplace, creating a cleaner environment, and lowering operational costs associated with handling hazardous material found in older chemical processes.

Another initiative is to reduce the "on-hand" amount of these chemicals; in other words, reducing inventories to the minimum essential for efficient operation. Although this sounds like a logical approach, minimal inventories requires more frequent deliveries of hazardous materials using our highways, rail systems, and shipping channels - something that increases the chances of accident and mishap. So lowering risk in one area raises it in another.