Good Chemistry

When congressional legislation necessitates upgrading of security at chemical plants, have your company ready with the complicated skills to win the business.

Legislation pending in Congress that would require all chemical and petrochemical plants in the United States to have appropriate levels of protection against attack is expected to produce additional security business opportunities when it passes.

However, providing top security at such plants is an extremely demanding task. It requires top skills in areas that not all security companies and systems integrators provide frequently. Getting your company ready to subcontract or contract for this work requires specialized knowledge, but companies that already are skilled in some of the required areas will have a head start. 

“It’s definitely a different set of installation processes,” emphasizes Ron Petrie, director of business development for systems integrator Unlimited Technology Inc. (UTI), Chester Springs, Pa., no. 49 on SDM's Top Systems Integrators Report. “The industrial settings are much more strict on safety protocols, and our technicians are a lot more highly trained on that side of the fence”.

“I guess the closest line I could draw to it is the electrical industry, which is the other side that we’ve done quite a bit of work in with safety protocols on the nuclear facilities and that kind of thing,” Petrie compares. “So it is a lot more skilled than a typical commercial office building.

To qualify for work at chemical plants, a company must have a good safety record and be geared for industrial applications. This means much more than employees simply wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) such as special clothing that withstands chemicals. They also must be trained in the applicable regulations of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and procedures on ladders, harnessing and lifts. 
Certification on lifts is necessary because most portions of chemical plants are at least six feet off the ground. When on a ladder, employees must wear a safety harness and tie off at the top of the ladder. All employees must pass drug tests and background investigations.

In the paints and pigments industry, most components have to be explosion-proof, including pipes, fittings, cameras, horns and strobes. Special measures also are necessary at chemical plants in the pharmaceuticals and flavors and fragrances industries. 
Permits may be required to work in certain areas of chemical plants. If power tools are being used, special regulations govern them and permitting for them is required. Additionally, most larger chemical companies have their own safety regulations.

Start as a Subcontractor

If you are not sure your company’s skills measure up right away to the requirements of this market, try subcontracting your services to a systems integrator already skilled in these types of jobs.

“One of the challenges that we had was finding decent integrators across the United States we could use that would have the same strict safety standards and stringent policies that we have and our customers have,” points out Brent Franklin, UTI’s president.

His company ensures that subcontractors it uses have done access control and CCTV work and that they have insurance. He also checks their employment modification rate (EMR) number, which is a safety modification rating given to companies based on their workers’ compensation claims

UTI also checks the type of work subcontractors have done and their largest sites and projects. “There are not a lot of integrators that can meet those requirements,” Franklin insists. 

But for those that do, “we have trained a lot of integrators on better and best applications,” Franklin reports. “We do a kickoff meeting, go through all the procedures and do some on-site training before they actually start the project. Then we come in after the job is 99 percent completed, and we do the commissioning and the final inspections.”

Franklin cautions those without sufficient experience in allied fields to get the training required before attempting to bid on any jobs. 

“It’s a whole different beast,” he insists. “That’s one mistake that integrators make today is that they try and jump into it kind of willy-nilly. They end up either getting kicked off the site or getting disqualified.

“If you’re in there trying to rush to get the job done, you’re going to get tripped up, and you’re going to lose the job,” he warns. “You’ve got to take the time and go through the proper procedures.”

Sidebar: Learning from Experts

Among the companies that systems integrator Unlimited Technology Inc. (UTI), Chester Springs, Pa., counts as its customers for security at their chemical plants are Air Products and Chemicals Inc., Allentown, Pa.; Praxair Inc., Danbury, Conn.; and BG&E/Constellation Energy, Baltimore.

Ron Petrie, UTI’s director of business development, estimates that of the approximately110 total sites in the United States that are rated as the most hazardous Tier 1 sites by the American Chemical Council (ACC) and are operated by Praxair and Air Products & Chemicals, UTI is responsible for the full security, design and implementation in 41 of the facilities.

Chris Bradlee, UTI’s director of sales and marketing, maintains that this is the largest percentage of any systems integrator in the United States. 

“Where we set ourselves apart is that we took on not only the traditional integrator business, which is the access control and CCTV side, but we also developed the standards for perimeter fencing designations, gate operator controls and outdoor intrusion detection,” Petrie asserts. “We basically did a turnkey operation, including both the physical and electronic security systems for those sites – more along the lines of a construction management model than a typical integrator model.” 

Another of UTI’s specialties are autoload facilities in which truck drivers obtain clearance to enter unmanned sites at any time of the day or night, hook up, deliver or receive what they need on their trucks and leave. 

“That’s a point of vulnerability that is pretty critical, so we’ve made sure those processes at autoload sites are reported back to the security operations center and very well documented electronically and visually,” Bradlee emphasizes. 

UTI has done more than 100 sites for Air Products in Tiers 1 through 4, Franklin reports. “We’ve been growing in that vertical market [for] about five years,” he relates. “We were actively doing site surveys and projects with Air Products before 9/11.” 

The company has been a systems integrator since 1995, when it was called Unlimited Lock. The name change to Unlimited Technology occurred in 1999. 

“We put a great focus on quality service after the sale and back up customers with their systems after we install them,” Franklin declares.

Sidebar: What Congress is Doing About `Sitting Weapons of Mass Destruction’

Concern has been mounting in Congress about unaddressed security measures at many chemical plants, which have been said to contain “sitting weapons of mass destruction.”

Sen. Jon Corzine (D-N.J.) and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) have written the Secretary of Homeland Security, urging that regulations and standards be issued and enforced for chemical plant security. Recently, the Bush administration announced it will work with Congress to seek authority for the regulation of approximately 3,400 high-risk facilities through the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Previously, the Bush administration had stopped two attempts to regulate security at chemical plants after the industry objected. 

Robert Stephan, a DHS assistant secretary, maintained that 20 percent of the 3,400 facilities selected for regulation are not in the voluntary program. 

More than two dozen chemical plants along two miles of New Jersey highways pose potential security threats, experts maintain. A chlorine plant there reportedly threatens 12 million people within 14 miles.

One month after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Corzine introduced legislation that would create national security standards for chemical plants, but progress of the bill has slowed amid industry complaints about the expense. 

“Basically, what we understand of this legislation is it’s being stopped because a lot of these chemical companies, if they are forced to adopt procedures and these regulations, it could end up putting some of them out of business, especially with the way the economy has been over the recent year or so,” maintains Brent Franklin, president of systems integrator Unlimited Technology Inc. (UTI), Chester Springs, Pa. 

In 2000, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) listed 123 chemical facilities in 24 states from which any potential release could harm more than 1 million people. The EPA calculates approximately 15,000 facilities in the United States have a high level of dangerous chemicals on-site. 

Adds Franklin, “We’ve dealt with some of these refiners who are kind of waiting to see what their neighbor is going to do. They’re not spending the money until they’re either forced to do it or their neighbor does it. 

“The other 80 percent of the chemical manufacturers out there are doing basically nothing, so they’re obviously the ones that will be impacted the most, time-wise and financially,” he insists. 

“Security before 9/11 for a lot of these places was probably on the same scale as landscaping,” Franklin remembers. “After 9/11, they closed their gates and put padlocks on them, but then to go to the next level and do access control, and cameras and monitoring services and things along those lines, you’re talking a lot of money,” he points out.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC), Arlington, Va., which has 140 members, represents approximately 90 percent of the nation’s chemical manufacturers, some of whom have improved security at their plants voluntarily at a cost of $2 billion. But ACC members want the government to mandate that their competitors incur the same expense upgrading their facilities.

“Some of the larger companies did their due diligence and jumped on it and secured their infrastructures and another one got the prices – we wrote proposals for bunches of companies – and they still have the proposals sitting in their pile of things to be done, and nothing’s really happened since 9/11,” Franklin laments. “Their awareness has left, and they haven’t spent the money. 

“That’s where the Congress, to me, really kind of missed the boat here. When the boat was afloat and everything was running and people had an awareness of it, they should have hit,” he asserts. “The economy was at a point that a lot of these chemical companies probably could afford to do it. Now the awareness level is down, but the threat is still there; it’s still real.”

Sidebar: Chemical Plants Are Classified by Tiers

Chemical plants in the United States are classified by the American Chemistry Council (ACC), Arlington, Va., in one of four tiers based on the damage that a release of a chemical could cause. 

Tier 1 plants have the most potential for damage if a release occurred of a chemical stored there. Many produce specialty gases, which are chemicals that may be poisonous, explosive or highly flammable. 

Some semiconductor process gases used in electronics manufacturing would be caustic if released or dangerous when combined with other chemicals, even though by themselves they may not be inherently dangerous. 

One of these chemicals, for example, is used in the manufacture of plasma televisions. Other plants store or produce ammonia or chlorine, which receive a higher tier number depending on the quantity of the chemicals stored at a site. 

The type of security required varies at each tier of sites. Tier 1 sites, for example, need the highest security, so their protection includes access control, physical and electronic perimeter detection and volumetric intrusion detection devices, which can be a combination of video motion, passive infrared (PIR) and microwave detection. High-resolution day/night video cameras may be used at Tier 1 sites along with infrared (IR) illumination in low-light situations. 

All security systems at Tier 1 sites frequently are integrated at various control points throughout the country so a company not only can control the system locally but also monitor it from centralized headquarters. 

Such facilities report through each company’s network and are backed up with a dial-up phone line in case the network goes down. Typically, they report back to several locations throughout the country. 

Tier 2 sites include camera coverage and access control throughout a facility and resemble a traditional commercial application. 
Tier 3 plants use gate operators, intercoms and access control at the entry gates. 

Tier 4 is straight physical security with a fenced perimeter that is locked after hours or uses an access control mechanism. Businesses can upgrade their security beyond their tier classification if they think it is justified. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: 
Russ Gager / Russ Gager is managing editor for SDM magazine.