Wednesday, February 6, 2008

DHS 2008 Grants

Late last week DHS announced that it will be awarding over $3 billion in grants in 2008 to bolster national preparedness capabilities and protect critical infrastructure. Only one of the programs announced directly impacts security at chemical facilities; the Buffer Zone Protection Program (BZPP) gets a total of $48.5 million in grants. Two other areas that only peripherally touch on chemical facilities also got DHS grants; Freight Rail Security gets $15 million, and the Trucking Security Program (TSP) gets $15.5 million.     


Missing from the grant programs announced is any mention of money for planning responses to successful chemical attacks at Tier 1 chemical facilities. As I mentioned in an earlier blog (see “Chemical Plant Incident Response”) this is not a response that cities are going to be able to execute, much less pay for, on their own. Some of the $862.9 million going to the State Homeland Security Program (SHSP) may end up going into this type of planning.


The BZPP program money is spread around a wide variety of critical infrastructure sites, including chemical facilities, nuclear and electric power plants, dams, stadiums, arenas and other high-risk areas. The money is distributed to states, according to the DHS web site, to spend on programs “to protect the sites from terrorist site surveillance or attacks with a focus on public-private partnership and fusion center coordination”. Very little money will go to protecting chemical facilities.


The Trucking Security Program uses truck drivers to watch out for and report suspicious activities. These grants will go to programs to identify, recruit and train drivers to participate in the program and to support the call center taking their reports. The only way that this program touches chemical security issues is that large amounts of hazardous chemicals are transported over the road.


The money going to the railroads is a very small part (about 3%) of the Transit Security Grant Program. These grants will go to freight railroad carriers and owners of railroad cars that are used to transport Security-Sensitive Material (mainly inhalation hazard gasses like chlorine and anhydrous ammonia). These DHS grants will be used to conduct vulnerability assessments, develop security plans, and conduct security awareness and emergency response training for frontline employees.


Interestingly, these are the same things that chemical facilities will have to pay for themselves under the CFATS regulations. Why should railroads get Federal assistance to pay for security measures while the chemical industry has to bear the costs themselves? Part of the reason is that rail industry would just as soon not have to carry these hazardous chemicals, but are forced to under Federal law.


The extreme liability issues from the rare accidents with hazardous chemical releases raise their insurance costs. If the security costs associated with protecting these railcars in transit were also to be absorbed by the railroads it would give added impetus to convince the regulatory agencies to allow them to increase their fees for shipping these hazardous chemicals.


Increasing rail shipping costs, coupled with the already erratic delivery schedules of the railroads will drive more companies to switch from rail shipment of these hazardous chemicals to truck shipments. This would increase the risk of both accidental spills and terrorist attacks. Is it any wonder that DHS is willing to give grants to the railroad to increase the security of shipments of high-risk chemicals?

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