Thursday, June 26, 2008

Blogosphere Reaction to SVA News

There has been some reaction to news reports from last week that DHS was going to notify 7000 facilities that they would have to submit SVA’s. Blogs from Armchair Generalist (Locking up the Chemicals) and John Schroeder (So, Who Pays?!) show some of the less than enthusiastic support for SVA’s. Surprisingly the reaction wasn’t that the ‘new’ regulations did not go far enough. Both questioned the need for the regulation, for different reasons in each case.

Updated SVA Information

Before we look at this blogosphere response, I would like to review some updated information that I have received from DHS about the SVA notifications that went out on Monday. Letters were mailed to 7,006 facilities. The tiering data for those facilities is:

    • Tier 1 – 219 facilities
    • Tier 2 – 756 facilities
    • Tier 3 – 1,712 facilities
    • Tier 4 – 4,323 facilities

SVA completion requirements vary according to the risk involved. The highest risk facilities must complete their SVA quickly. The Tier 4 facilities have the option of submitting an alternate security plan in lieu of an SVA (see: "SVA for Tier 4 Facilities"). The deadlines for these facilities to complete their SVA’s are:

    • Tier 1 – 90 days
    • Tier 2 – 120 days
    • Tier 3 – 150 days
    • Tier 4 – 180 days

According to my source the Chemical Security Compliance Division will not be treating the appearance on the high-risk chemical list as Chemical-Terrorism Vulnerability Information (CVI), so the names of the 7006 facilities should be public record. The tier rankings and the chemical security issues (including Chemicals of Interest on site) would be CVI and thus not publicly available.

In a move sure to please many critics of the ‘secrecy’ of the current CFATS regulations, DHS will be providing to each state a list of high-risk chemical facilities in that (and near that) state. That list would include tier rankings and chemical security issues. This is being done to help states develop their own risk management programs for their citizen’s safety.

Lack of ‘Actionable Intelligence’

The Armchair Generalist, a blogger on military matters, notes that

    • "…DHS is forcing this exercise without any indication of domestic threats and without any past history of these sites being hit by outsiders for chemicals. Better security is always good to discourage vandals and thieves, but unless we see evidence of actual terrorist activities (actionable intelligence, if you will), we ought to take this slow."

The problem with this point of view is that ramping up security at chemical facilities is not something that is easy or quick to do. By the time the government gets ‘actionable intelligence’ of intent to attack a chemical facility it will be too late to start looking at security. One does not need actionable intelligence to know that a huge LPG tank is a potential terrorist target, the tactical equivalent of fixed-site WMD. The trick is to identify the less obvious chemical targets.

What DHS has done is to look at the 30,000+ chemical facilities in the country that have significant quantities of a rather small list (300+ chemicals) of extremely hazardous chemicals in their inventories. Using data provided by those facilities and looking at the surrounding community, DHS performed a risk analysis and determined that 7,006 of these facilities looked like they were at a high-risk for a terrorist attack. To make a final determination if these facilities will have to ‘ramp up their security’ DHS is requiring the facilities to provide additional information about their current security situation, the Security Vulnerability Assessment.

Cost of Security

John Schroeder asks who is going to pay the cost for the additional security. He makes the following point:

    • "In a nation where we are willing to use public funds to compensate the victims of terrorism, how can we possible expect corporate citizens to not only bear the cost of securing their facilities against terrorist attack, but also subject them to PUNISHMENT if they do not. Is not national security one of the very legitimate functions of the federal government?"

This is certainly a valid point, especially since the recently passed farm bill provided some federal money for grants to agricultural operations to increase their chemical security (see: "Farm Bill Contains Chemical Security Provisions"), operations that probably do not make the list of high-risk chemical facilities. Congress has yet to stand up and address this issue.

The short answer is that the people that benefit from the use of the hazardous chemicals that make these facilities targets, ultimately consumers who buy the products, will be the ones that pay for the increased security. Businesses will pass these costs on in the price of their goods.

There is actually an upside to this. If this were actually a ‘command-and-control’ regulation there would be no way for facilities to shave their costs while maintaining security. They would have to do what the ‘govern meant’ told them to do. The way the CFATS regulations were written (and in fact mandated by Congress) DHS does not specify security measures, it requires security outcomes (levels of protection) based on the level of threat for the facility. This encourages facilities to look for cost effective ways to implement the necessary level of security protection.

Chemical Security Program is Moving Forward

In any case, the CFATS program is moving forward; not as quickly as some had hoped, but it is moving. While most of this work will be moving forward out of public view, I am sure that we will be hearing from facilities that believe that they have been unfairly rated as high-risk. I predict that propane suppliers will be the first to ‘cry foul’ loudly and publicly. I mean, how much damage could a 60,000 pound propane tank actually do?

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