Tuesday, July 8, 2008

CFATS Misunderstandings

When Fox News gets the details wrong on the latest news about the CFATS implementation, it can be excused. After all they are not chemical professionals so they can be excused their misunderstanding of the details. When C&EN (old style: Chemical and Engineering News), a weekly online publication of the American Chemical Society, fails to understand the nuances of the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards, DHS has a serious outreach and education problem. To see what I mean, lets look at a recent C&EN.com article; Chemical Vulnerability.

‘Winnowing Process’

In the opening paragraph the author, Rochelle Bohaty, explains that the 200 or so Tier I (‘at highest risk for terrorist attack’) facilities were winnowed "from a pool of about 7,000 facilities under review in its chemical plant security program". The ‘winnowing’ process was much more impressive than that; DHS started with 32,000+ facilities and narrowed it down to the 7,000+ high-risk facilities. That same process placed each facility is a risk-based tier, with 219 in the highest risk tier, Tier 1.

The article then goes on to say that "C&EN has learned from several sources the breakdown of the notified facilities into the four-tier system". Perhaps one of their sources was my blog (see: "Blogosphere Reaction to SVA News"). The author comments that DHS would not "confirm this exact breakdown of the preliminary tier rankings". I had confirmation; otherwise I would not have published the numbers.

‘Tier Rankings’

The author correctly notes that these are preliminary tier rating. In her words; "Once the facilities submit the additional information DHS requires", DHS will make their final determination. That does not sound nearly as complicated as what the Security Vulnerability Analysis is turning out to be. That SVA is the ‘additional information’ that each of these 7,000 facilities is required to complete for DHS to be able to assign their final ‘rankings’.

Of course, the term ‘rankings’ is very misleading, implying that there is a list with the #1, highest-risk facility at the top and the 7,009th at the bottom. It doesn’t work that way. There are just four risk-based tiers and each of the 7,009 facilities will be assigned to one of those tiers; no #1.

‘Security Measures’

Ms Bohaty also misunderstands the purpose of the tier rankings. The article states that:

  • "The final rankings will dictate the security measures a given facility must abide by. Potential security measures include installation of a perimeter fence or switching to less hazardous chemical inventories or processes."

First off, Congress specifically forbade DHS from dictating security measures. DHS was allowed to establish ‘risk-based performance standards’, but those standards had to allow each facility to craft its own solution to achieve those levels of security. Secondly, there is absolutely no provision in the CFATS regulations that even tangentially requires a switch to ‘less hazardous chemical inventories or processes’. There have been serious discussions in Congress about providing such a requirement, but such legislation will probably not be considered this year, again.


Back when I was a member of the ACS, I was an avid reader of the print version of C&EN. It was a major source of information about what was going on with the chemical industry in general and a good source for news about impending government regulations. It is disappointing to see an article that is so misleading and misinformed in the electronic version of this publication. It is certainly making the task that DHS is trying to accomplish, raising security levels at high-risk chemical facilities, that much harder.

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