Facilities are 'sitting with baited breath' for DHS feedback on CFATS Drinking water facilities also await feedback on bill By Leischen Stelter - 10.20.2009
WASHINGTON—A bill that would allow the Department of Homeland Security to impose new security regulations on facilities that house possibly dangerous chemicals, along with a related bill that addresses security at water and wastewater treatment facilities, took an important step forward. On Oct. 14, the House Energy and Environmental Subcommittee voted to send the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Act of 2009 and the Drinking Water System Security Act of 2009 to the full Energy and Commerce committee for a vote.
Both bills are aimed at improving security at these high-risk facilities, but have left a lot of questions unanswered as far as what further security measures may be required, said Brent Franklin, president of Unlimited Technology, a system integrator with several chemical facility clients.
“There is not a definitive parameter about what they’ll have to do in the form of risk-based measures and securing the facility and perimeter,” said Franklin. “These chemical customers have conformed to what is out there, but there’s no written standards about what they’ll have to do.”
All Tier 1 facilities were previously required to submit extensive security plans, which DHS estimated would take about 200 man-hours to complete. Now, those chemical facilities are “sitting with baited breath and nobody has a really clear understanding about what to expect back from DHS,” Franklin said.
A significant part of the issue is the restrictions placed on DHS, said Patrick Coyle, a former chemical facility employee and author of Chemical Facility Security News blog. “DHS could not specifically require any specific type of security arrangement, so instead they had to establish performance standards rather than tell people how to do security,” Coyle said. “In general, that’s a good way to approach it, but it caused a lot of problems because DHS can’t tell people what to do and some companies don’t have the foggiest idea about security and want to be told how to secure their facility.”
Coyle said that problems complying with potential regulations will differ based on the size of a company. “Big players like Exxon and Dupont, they have pretty good security, it’s not perfect, but it’s good enough to keep terrorists out of their facility. The midlevel companies–that’s where the proposition is dicier,” he said.
Similarly, imposing new security regulations and standards on drinking water and wastewater facilities also poses significant concerns. The bill in Congress would remove the CFATS exemption status from such facilities.
“The proposal out there is that they’re going to put water and wastewater treatment facilities under CFATS because of chemicals used to treat water,” said Franklin from Unlimited Technology. “That has not been determined at this point and it’s not been determined that if they do fall under CFATS, what tier they will fall under.”
While it remains unknown if water facilities will qualify under CFATS, Terry Lyons, safety manager of Aqua America, a water and wastewater treatment provider serving three million people in 13 states, said he hasn’t registered what the impact could be if the new legislation removed the current exemption status.
Even if water facilities qualified under CFATS, because of the size of Aqua America, , Lyons said the company feels prepared to meet those standards. “It doesn’t concern us because we feel ready for it and have a thorough maintenance and security program,” he said. “We’ve paid special attention to security in these areas, so we have a good grasp on the situation.”
However, both water and chemical companies will have to wait for Congress to decide how to regulate and standardize security measures in such facilities. The Energy and Commerce Committee will be holding their full committee markup of both bills on Oct. 21, however, it is estimated that these bills will not reach the House and Senate floors for final votes until the beginning of next year.