Thursday, March 28, 2013

Gas Refinery Vulnerabilities

There is an interesting article by Joe Trindal on on providing further details about the terrorist attack on the gas refinery in Algeria in January of this year. Readers might recall that Joe was a source of much of the information that I used in preparing my earlier blog post on that attack. He has a lot more detail available in this article.

Joe and I have had an ongoing conversation about the implications of this attack. He is convinced that this attack marks a major change in terrorist tactics in regards to critical infrastructure facilities and directly changes the scope of the threat against similar facilities here in the US. I’m inclined to think that this is more of an incremental change if one considers the frequent attacks on Nigerian oil field facilities. While I do agree that this probably changes the scale of the potential threat against refineries in the US, I don’t expect that we will see complicated, large-scale attacks like that seen Algeria.

Having said all of that, I think Joe’s article provides a valuable look at the lessons learned from the Tigeuntourine Gas Refinery attack. In particular I think that his comments under Prepare Responders for Special Site Hazards deserve special attention. He notes that:

“Unfortunately, the Algerian response forces at the In Amenas Gas Refinery lacked the preparatory experience (sic) needed to cope with the hazards posed by engaging in live-fire interdiction in the areas around pressurized flammable gas processing units at the site.”

He goes on to say:

“Site preparedness planning, careful coordination, and analysis of on-site hazards with law enforcement response teams are all of critical importance well in advance of an incident. Law enforcement response teams must prepare for alternative solutions and/or determine acceptable-risk thresholds for engaging live-fire, pyrotechnic diversionary, and other interdiction assets at or in areas containing special hazards such as volatile and flammable materials and/or toxic-release chemicals. Law enforcement should therefore assess such dangers and consider shifting to the use of frangible (“soft”) ammunition for operations on certain sites. Such operational decisions should be predicated with analysis, training, and decisional procedures well in advance of active operations on relevant sites. The members of law enforcement interdiction units also should be prepared to operate effectively and to use the full ensemble of personal protective equipment needed to cope with the site’s inherent hazards.”

None of this is new to long time readers of this blog. I have made similar comments and recommendations many times over the years. It is heartening to hear the same thing, though, from someone with Joe’s tactical and law enforcement experience.

Refinery owners (in particular, but this applies to all high-risk chemical facilities) owe it to their employees, shareholders and local communities to take this into account in their response planning for not only terrorist incidents but active shooter incidents as well. They are responsible for ensuring that the local responders have a solid understanding of the potential safety consequences of the application of deadly force at chemical facilities.

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