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The US DHS and Security of Chemical Plants

Introduction

The United States Department of Homeland Security or DHS can be considered as the Cabinet Department of their Federal Government whose main responsibility is the protection of vulnerable US territories from the terrorists and to respond to any natural calamity.

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They function in USA’s civilian sphere to protect from the inside as well as outside the borders. They came into being as a result of the 9/11 attacks on the USA and since then have been successfully preparing the USA to avoid and respond immediately to any future domestic emergencies that take place on the nation, mainly acts of terrorism. The DHS is the 3rd largest department of the cabinet and its policies are coordinated by the Homeland Security Council. Their creation has been among USA’s largest government reformations and also a considerable reorganization for various federal agencies. (Sanquist, 2008)

DHS and security of Chemical Plants

Although critics have always said that DHS has more or less failed to sufficiently protect vulnerable targets, like chemical plants, from terrorist attacks and outside infiltrations leading to the death and injuries of the people of America, it is not so. The chemical facilities of the United States are so critical that any infiltration or terrorist attacks on them can seriously harm public health and their overall economy. To stop this DHS has efficiently coordinated its federal efforts so that the chemical facilities can be protected from terrorist attacks.

To ensure the security of the USA’s chemical plants, DHS has implemented their Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards or CFATS in 2007. Today it is almost in its 3rd stage after the online secure CSAT Site Security Plan or SSP Tool was launched. The CFATS applies to all facilities which manufacture, store, utilize and distribute various chemicals in a predetermined quantity. Under it, DHS has issued the Interim Final Rule where complete federal security regulations have been imposed on chemical facilities falling under the high-risk category.

Certain Risk-based Performance Standards have been established by this rule where these facilities need to prepare and frequently submit Security Vulnerability Assessments or SVA to the DHS identifying the vulnerabilities in the security of the facilities. Additionally, they are also required to devise and execute SSP which includes certain actions that satisfy the Risk-based Performance Standards which have been earlier identified. (Reissman, 2008)

Under particular circumstances, some chemical facilities are also allowed to present Alternate Security Programs instead of the SVA or SSP or both of them. The Secretary of the DHS has full authority under the DHS Appropriations Act of 2007 to issue the regulations of the Interim Final Rule without giving any previous comment or notice on the same. DHS also has the Advance Notice of Rulemaking or ANRM where comments regarding their rules and policies for the security of chemical facilities can be given by the stakeholders and they are then analyzed and sometimes even incorporated in their Interim Final Rule.

Homeland Security Appropriations Act of 2007 applies to the DHS and under it the Secretary of the DHS had to launch the Risk-based Performance Standards of the various chemical facilities with high-risk factors within 6 months after the Act was enacted. To accomplish the requirements of the Act, the CFATS Interim Final Rule was established. This Act also authorizes the Chemical-terrorism Vulnerability Information or CVI which is an important information protection system and it provided security from unsuitable public disclosure of their information. The DHA must protect all the information provided to them by the chemical facilities from being misused or publicly disclosed. (Sanquist, 2008)

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DHS has also fabricated its Chemical Sector-Specific Plan. Through this, it intends to describe their current efforts and well plans on how they will coordinate their actions with the private sector and local, federal, and state agencies in trying to protect the vulnerable chemical plants from future terrorist attacks and infiltrations. This plan will also categorize those chemical facilities which should be included in their sector and assign a priority to them based on their level of vulnerability.

Thus, through this plan, DHS attempts to avoid, discourage, extenuate and recover from any type of attack that takes place on the nation’s chemical facilities. This plan came into effect in 2006 and had identified around 3400 vulnerable chemical facilities which when attacked could cause a lot of damage both to the population and economy of the USA. Thus, DHS has already initiated its protection programs so that the local communities and the short-listed chemical industries can be properly protected. (Reissman, 2008)

The fact that DHA has taken adequate steps to protect the vulnerable chemical facilities becomes clear through their above action. In addition to them, DHA has also coordinated their working with that of the Chemical Sector Coordinating Council which is a group led by the chemical industry acting as a connection between the chemical sector, the EPA, and various state and federal agencies. All of these above-discussed security laws offer DHA only with restricted authority over the security issues of the various chemical facilities. Due to this, they have to depend on the security efforts of the chemical facilities themselves. Although these efforts carried out by the chemical plants are voluntary, they lack perfection.

Without the DHS these facilities would have used a member company to first assess their vulnerabilities and then fabricate and execute the mitigated plan, further requiring a 3rd party to verify whether the security measures implemented are up to mark or not. This whole process involves high costs and restricted guidance making the chemical facilities incapable of addressing their security requirements themselves and thus, they become unable to prepare their facility to fight back terrorism. But with DHS’s restricted authority it is quite difficult for them to completely assess the security measures of the chemical facilities.

DHS cannot directly review the vulnerabilities of the chemical facilities and can neither enforce the security measured designed for them. Thus, DHS is unable to completely ensure whether the facilities are implementing the security actions or not. (Prante, 2008)

DHS has clearly stated its problems to the government since without complete authority they will not be able to efficiently regulate the security measures of the chemical facilities of the USA and thus, save them from terrorist attacks or infringements. They also suggested that the government pass state and federal actions for these chemical facilities or that additional legislation be placed wherever needed. DHS also wanted the chemical facilities to adopt safer processes and chemicals since this would somewhat reduce the probable effects of a terrorist attack or infringement since, due to safer practices, terrorists and external groups will find those chemical plants less attractive shifting the risk factor instead of eliminating it.

But since this is not only an infeasible option for some plants but also a costly means, most of the shareholders are not in favor of this action. Recently, the US government has considered the complaints of the DHS and has accepted their Appropriations Bill allowing DHS to mandate chemical plants with high risks to implement Inherently Safer Technology or IST so that they can be protected through stringent standards.

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Oversight agencies

To adequately protect vulnerable targets, like chemical facilities and plants from terrorist attacks and other infringements, DHS works in cooperation with several oversight agencies that supervise their overall working. Some of such oversight agencies that have helped DHS effectively improve the security of chemical facilities include ─

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or EPA

The EPA can be considered as USA’s “Chemical Emergency Preparedness and Prevention Office”. (Reissman, 2008) They work with the DHS in ensuring that America is appropriately prepared to handle environmental emergencies, prevent various harmful accidents, and maintain a proper response capability. They provide information to their partners, like the DHS, regarding research works, regulation tools, and response actions which will help them to organize themselves so that emergencies can be avoided and in case they take place immediate response actions can be taken. EPA profiles under the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act or SARA contain various chemical profiles and reference documents along with information on a record of extremely hazardous chemical substances which is available to its partner agencies. These profiles have been recorded as per their Chemical Abstract Service or CAS registry number and hence, can be easily referred to by the DHS. (Haimes, 2009)

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry or ATSDR

ATSDR is a US federal agency of the Department of Health and Human Services that is concerned with public health. It is their responsibility to help other agencies, like the DHS in taking antiphonary actions regarding public health and providing the agencies with accurate health information so that harmful diseases and exposures to various chemical and toxic substances can be prevented. They work under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act or Superfund Act of 1980 to evaluate whether any health hazards are present at particular Superfund sites and the nature of that hazard so that other agencies can be helped in reducing and preventing additional contact with those substances and also various illnesses which accompanies such an exposure. (Fos & Fine, 2000)

The United States Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board

This board is also called the Chemical Safety Board or CSB and is the federal agency that is in charge of inquiring about various industrial chemical disasters. Most of their root cause chemical disaster investigations to take place at particular chemical facilities. These root causes generally refer to those shortcomings in the safety management structure of the chemical facilities which, if applied properly, could have prevented the mishap from occurring. They then pass on this information to the DHS or the EPA for their use in designing their strategies for protecting vulnerable chemical plants. (Sanquist, 2008)

American Chemistry Council or ACC

Apart from the oversight agencies, there are also some public interest and environmental organizations which constantly help the DHS in effectively improving the security of various chemical facilities. One such organization is the ACC which is a trade group that is responsible for bringing an improvement to the public image of various chemical facilities. They represent several chemical companies along with associations like Chlorine Chemistry Council, Center for the Polyurethanes Industry, and American Plastics Council. ACC enforced the Responsible Care Program where initiatives were taken to help the chemical facilities employ various environmental and safety guidelines so that their public images could be enhanced. (Reissman, 2008)

Conclusion

From the above, we can see that DHS has effectively worked towards improving the security of the chemical plants in the USA. As stated earlier it has taken various steps for enhancing the security of the chemical facilities. They have developed various strategies for protecting the chemical plants with the coordinated efforts of the security measures at the plants, other federal agencies, oversight agencies like EPA and CSB, and other organizations like ACC.

The Secretary of DHS has even stated that “The safety and security measures that we take need to be tough and balanced” (Fine, 2007) and that, “We have to take a risk-based approach to protect the chemical sector”. (Fine, 2007) He has further said that “We will significantly reduce vulnerability at high-consequence chemical facilities, taking into account important efforts in certain states”. (Fine, 2007) But criticizing DHS alone will not solve the nation’s problems. The chemical and government need to work hand in hand so the security of these chemical facilities can be strengthened without undercutting any part of the USA’s economy.

References

Fine, H. (2007). DHS regulations to secure high-risk chemical plants. Retrieved September 14, 2009, from Los Angeles Business Journal. Web.

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Fos, P., & Fine, D.J. (2000). Designing Healthcare for Populations. Applied epidemiology in healthcare administration. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Haimes, Y. (2009). Homeland security preparedness: Balancing protection with resilience in emergent systems. Systems Engineering, 11(4), 287-308.

Prante, T. (2008). What Determines Homeland Security Spending? An Econometric Analysis of the Homeland Security Grant Program. Policy Studies Journal, 36(2), 243-256.

Reissman, D. (2008). Responder safety and health: Preparing for future disasters. Mount Sinai Journal of Medicine: A Journal of Translational and Personalized Medicine, 75(2), 135-141.

Sanquist, T. (2008). An Exploratory Risk Perception Study of Attitudes Toward Homeland Security Systems. Risk Analysis, 28(4), 1125-1133.

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