This is part of a series of blogs looking at the question of arming security forces at high-risk chemical facilities. DHS is working on guidelines for their Risk Based Performance Standards that must be addressed as part of the Site Security Plan for those facilities. This series of blogs, along with reader responses, is my contribution to the discussion about the use of weapons in defending high-risk chemical facilities against terrorist attack. Previous blogs in the series include:
- Security Forces at Chemical Facilities – Mission Definition
- Security Forces at Chemical Facilities – Mission Requirements
While most security guards in the United States are unarmed, an increasing number are armed with conventional weapons ranging from night sticks to sub-machineguns. The most commonly used weapons for armed guards are probably hand guns. Due to chemical safety issues, many security managers are unwilling to allow the use of conventional handguns within their facilities. Unconventional weapons may allow for a safer alternative to standard firearms.
Non-Traditional Projectile Weapons
Both the military and police agencies have sponsored research in sub-lethal projectile weapons. These range from rubber bullets to bean-bag rounds. They are designed for their impact effects rather than penetration. These may be acceptable to many facilities that are concerned with projectiles penetrating storage tanks and releasing hazardous chemicals to the local environment. Since most of these are powered by typical, if underpowered, pistol cartridges, facilities that are concerned about flammable or explosive atmospheres will not find these to be acceptable weapons.
Air powered weapons (a misnomer since they typically use CO2 as a propellant) are becoming more advanced due to the popularity of paint-ball competitions. In fact, standard paint-ball weapons may be a preferable weapon for perimeter patrol missions. There would be very limited liability issues for projectiles impacting outside of the facility boundary. Suspects fleeing the facility would be marked for easier detection and apprehension. Replacing the paint-ball with the same sized solid or frangible projectile could increase the effectiveness of these weapons.
Very high-risk facilities with high levels of chemical safety risk might find the use of air-powered tranquilizer-dart rifles to be an effective and safe weapon. There would be very low risk for interactions with the equipment or atmosphere. The main draw back to this type weapon is the low firing rate and high level of training required. The limited range of these weapons would not be much of a factor within the active portion of the facility.
One last projectile weapon will be considered in this area, shotguns. This is certainly not a non-traditional weapon, but it has many characteristics that may make it useful in a chemical facility. If flammable atmospheres are not a concern, properly sized shot would have a low probability of penetrating the walls of metal tanks except in the event of a straight-on, short-range shot. The low probability penetrations that do take place would be less of a concern due to their smaller size. Shot shells for most caliber hand guns are also available.
Directed Energy Weapons
To the best of my knowledge none of these weapons are commercially available yet, but there have been numerous news reports about this type of weapon in the final stages of development. They use a variety of energy sources to cause sub-lethal pain in targeted individuals. The types of energy reported include sound, visible light, microwaves and lasers of various wavelengths.
The most commercially advanced device of this sort that I have seen reported is the LED Incapacitator. This uses a rapidly pulsing visible light source that causes an involuntary shutting of the eyes. It does not do any permanent eye damage. It just temporarily incapacitates the target while it is facing into the light beam.
High pressure water cannons are frequently used in Europe as riot control weapons. As fixed-position weapons around the inner perimeter of the facility they may prove to be very effective at denying intruders access to critical portions of the facility until better armed response forces arrive on site.
A more effective water cannon that could be made available at most chemical facilities. It would be fed with high-pressure steam and water. It would increase the pressure and range of the resulting high-temperature water stream. It would also provide thermal effects on the targets that could be disabling.
Before a final decision can be made on arming the facility security force, one final area must be considered; the source of the security force protecting the facility. There are three general options:
- The facility hires and maintains the security force as facility employees,
- The facility contracts with a security company to provide the security force, or
- A large portion of the security force is provided by the local police force.
The pros and cons for these options will be discussed in a later blog.