Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Ohio EPA pinpoints potential terrorist target

The Ohio EPA announced fines against the Dole Fresh Vegetables facility in Springfield, OH. According to a article the facility uses large quantities of Anhydrous Ammonia (in a refrigeration system) and Chlorine (Water Treatment). The Ohio EPA cited the facility for numerous short comings in the facility’s Risk Management Plan implementation. Specifically, a 2006 inspection found failures to:


  1. Establish a written management system for risk management plan elements;
  2. Provide supporting hazard assessment documentation;
  3. Develop process safety information;
  4. Analyze hazards relating to the chlorination process and address recommendations from the anhydrous ammonia refrigeration process hazard analysis;
  5. Include operating limits, consequences of deviations and safety functions for the ammonia process and complete operating procedures for the chlorination process;
  6. Provide refresher training to employees at least every three years;
  7. Implement preventive maintenance procedures;
  8. Complete pre-startup reviews;
  9. Conduct an risk management plan compliance audit at least every three years; and
  10. Implement the contractor program

In short, it appears thatlittle has been done to comply with Federal Laws requiring the facility to identify the risks associated with handling two toxic, inhalation hazard chemicals so that appropriate plans could be developed and implemented to protect their employees and neighboring facilities and residences from the hazards associated with these chemicals. It takes no great leap of imagination to assume (rightly or wrongly) that this facility has poor security around the storage, movement or usage of these same chemicals.


While there are few nearby residences or schools to target with such an attack, there are enough on-site employees (looking at the size of their parking lot from aerial photos on-line), neighboring businesses, an Interstate, and a nearby National Guard facility, that this would appear to be a ‘legitimate’ terrorist target. Two mutually-reactive inhalation hazard chemicals at a facility known to be lax on following government regulations and little in the way of visible security make this an attractive potential target.


To be fair, since this fine resulted from a 2006 inspection, I am sure that the facility has taken steps to correct the deficiencies noted. The facility is also not currently under any Federal requirements to provide any security for these two chemicals at the facility. The CFATS regulation does not apply to this facility because Appendix A has not yet been approved.


Nor has the Ohio EPA violated any security laws in pointing out the deficiencies noted in their reporting the fines levied against the facility. In fact, a strong case can be made that under community right-to know legislation, the Ohio EPA (apparently acting as the enforcement agency in Ohio for the US EPA) has a responsibility to let the people of Ohio know about these deficiencies. Certainly nothing in this news report would violate CFATS Chemical Vulnerability Information (CVI) rules, even if this facility was currently covered under CFATS.


This is one of the basic problems that an open society has in protecting itself against terrorist attacks. The government has a certain amount of responsibility to share information with its citizens. Under various legislative requirements, companies are required to provide public information about their operations. People living or working around a facility that houses hazardous materials need to know in advance what actions they have to take to protect themselves from those chemicals in the event of a successful terrorist attack or even just an industrial accident. All of the above require public disclosure of information that would be useful to a terrorist organization looking for potential targets.


Short of shutting down this legitimate flow of information to the public, the only thing that the security community can do is to realize that anytime an announcement like this is made, the facility becomes a higher risk target for possible terrorist attack. Local security procedures need to be visibly reinforced and local law enforcement agencies need to make irregular increased patrols in the area surrounding the facility. After some amount of time has passed, after the news report becomes old news, the security can return to a more normal level.


One other thing can be done in this particular instance; under section 27.200 of 6 CFR the Secretary should notify this facility that it is required to complete a Top Screen because the publication of this information puts this facility at a potentially high risk for terrorist attack. In fact, anytime that a chemical facility is publicly identified as having chemicals on-site that might make them a target (Appendix A chemicals when that is finally approved), those facilities should be notified by DHS that they are temporarily at a higher risk and need to increase their security posture. Any such publicly identified facility that has not completed a Top Screen should be required to do so.

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