Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Security Forces at Chemical Facilities – Weapons Limitations

This is part of a series of blogs looking at the question of arming security forces at high-risk chemical facilities. DHS is working on guidelines for their Risk Based Performance Standards that must be addressed as part of the Site Security Plan for those facilities. This series of blogs, along with reader responses, is my contribution to the discussion about the use of weapons in defending high-risk chemical facilities against terrorist attack. Previous blogs in the series include:

Weapon Constraints

There will be a number of constraints that have to be considered when making the decision to arm security personnel and determining what types of weapons can safely be used at that specific facility. This is a security management decision that must be made on a facility-by-facility basis. These constraints include:

  • Level of security force training
  • Threat and risk levels
  • Type of environment around facility
  • Chemical safety considerations.

Security Force Training

A frequently overlooked factor when making decisions to arm security personnel is the fact that increasing the force available to security personnel increases the amount of training required. Even the use of a baton or mace requires additional training. The minimum amount of training is usually mandated by state and local regulations.

The security guards must be trained on the use of the weapons and practice that use to maintain proficiency and accuracy. They must also be trained on the legal limits of employing that force. Classroom instruction is not adequate, especially when the weapons used provide for deadly force. The training must include role playing and tactical scenarios where the decision making process for the use of force can be evaluated.

The training must also include limitations on the use of the weapons imposed by chemical safety considerations (see below). The security force must thoroughly understand those considerations unique to the facility. Where those constraints are area specific, the security personnel must be able to identify those areas under all environmental conditions.

Another often overlooked training requirement is the need for weapon simulation devices for facility drills and exercises. Security personnel cannot use actual weapons during these drills. Weapon simulators will have to be sophisticated enough to allow for evaluating the application of force during the exercise.

Threat and Risk Levels

A major deciding factor in determining the allowable level of force to make available to the security force will be the threat and risk level for the facility. A low-risk facility with no perceived threat would be hard pressed to justify the additional costs associated with an armed security force. A high-risk facility with a clearly-defined high threat-level will have a hard time justifying not having an armed security force.

Unfortunately, most facilities will fall somewhere between these two extremes on the risk/threat matrix. Additionally, the level of risk and threat are going to vary over time. A well thought out site security plan will provide for changing the levels of force available to the security guards depending on the current threat and risk assessments. This requires constant intelligence input and reassessment of the current situation.

Environment around the Facility

While the environment within the facility will be a major determining factor in the types of weapons that can be made available to the security team, the surrounding environment cannot be ignored. The potential termination point of any weapon must be considered. Allowable weapons will be restricted if the facility is surrounded by a housing development while the constraints for an isolated facility in the desert will be significantly lessened.

Chemical Safety Constraints

An utterly wiped terrorist force will have succeeded completely if the security guards defeating them unleashed forces that caused a catastrophic release of a Toxic Release Chemical of Interest. The major constraint that must be considered at high-risk chemical facilities is the chemical environment in which the chemicals will be used. Some of the factors that must be considered include:

  • Penetration of Tanks and Piping: Projectile weapons have a nasty tendency of missing their intended targets in a tactical environment. The capability of stray projectiles to penetrate tanks and piping will depend on the thickness and composition of the skin of the container as well as the speed, mass and cross-sectional area of the projectile. The resulting holes can release toxic and/or flammable chemicals.
  • Ignition of chemical fumes: Many facilities routinely have transient flammable or explosive atmospheres in areas of the facility. The muzzle flash of a fire arm or the impact spark of projectile hitting metal, stone, or concrete may be sufficient for igniting those chemicals. Electrical sparks from stun guns or tasers could do the same thing.

These chemical safety constraints must be weighed against the consequences of a successful terrorist attack. The hazards associated with the catastrophic release of a Toxic Release COI are much higher than those caused by a leak of the same chemical from a few bullet holes in the tank.

We’ll discuss how non-traditional weapons could be used to work around some of these constraints.

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