Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Water Security

I’ve been having an interesting email conversation with Bob Radvanovksy, the gentleman who has started the WATERSEC List that I wrote about earlier. As one would suspect of someone who has taken on a task like this, he is passionate about water security issues. One of the interesting things that came out in our discussion is how he defines ‘water security’:

“The term "water security" is a misnomer term, and is nebulous by its very definition. It means to 'secure our water operations', which can be left up for any level of interpretation. This means physical, and logical, and operational security. Operational security might be how HAZMAT is handled before, during and after water purification processes; logical security includes both IT and SCADA systems; physical is premise site surveillance and perimeter protection. But it also means 'social security' - what we can do - as a society to preserve the human race from extinction because we *waste* so much water in Western world countries, while others in desertificated regions of the world, are dying of drought and thirst. Similar to the 'critical infrastructure protection', 'water security' applies 'securing both an operation, and an asset', something that many people have a difficult time comprehending.”

This is truly the scope of any issue dealing with security of critical resources like water, food, energy, and essential chemicals. The most obvious security need is to protect the physical infrastructure (including electronic controls and information systems) that provides the finished product to consumers. When one starts to seriously look into that aspect of security then the protection of the raw material (including energy) feeds that support that facility as well as the distribution network that delivers to the customer become obvious concerns as well. Now on this blog I have a particular interest about the security of many of the chemicals used in the treatment of water and waste water; chlorine gas, anhydrous ammonia and sulfur dioxide in particular. I think these chemicals are a real potential terrorist target because of the off-site impact they would have if they were released from their storage containers at the facility. But, I would be completely blind if I thought that was the only way that a terrorist could successfully use a water treatment facility as a weapon. The EPA has chosen (or was forced by Congress, depending on your view) to direct their major security attention to preventing contamination of drinking water coming out of these systems, but that is hardly the only way a water facility could be attacked. Shutting down a drinking water treatment facility for a major municipality through a successful attack on its processing equipment may have more of an adverse impact on the lives of most of the people in that community than an attack that ‘just’ releases a couple of tons of chlorine gas or contaminates the water with low levels of a poison. Compromising the water supply that goes to that facility, especially in areas where water is in short supply in general, could have even a greater impact on the served community. If Bob can bring even a little light to shine on these potential issues through the WATERSEC List, he will have done this country and perhaps significant portions of the world a major service. I’ll try to do my part, sharing my chemical security concerns about water security. If you have ideas or concerns about the issue, please actively join us on that discussion list. Everyone else that relies on water from public water systems for any part of their lives should at least monitor the discussions on the list.

1 comment:

Lindsey said...

Thank you for the great post about water security. It's a complex and often ill- or partially-defined issue that certainly needs addressing in the modern age.

 
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