Friday, August 15, 2008

Defending Against IEDs at Houston Chemplants

According to an article in the Houston Chronicle the Houston area has been selected for a study of how to defend against the use of IEDs in terrorist attacks in the United States. The area was selected because of the concentration of chemical and refinery facilities in a relatively small area with multiple governmental jurisdictions.


The study will be conducted by Federal, State, and local authorities. They will identify potential targets, look for ways to prevent attacks, and compile a list or resources to respond to such attacks. The study will serve as blueprint for conducting cross-facility security planning exercise in other areas of the country.


What are IED’s?


The term, ‘Improvised Explosive Devices’, covers a wide range of destructive devices from suicide vests to truck bombs. A HomlandSecurity.Org article describes IEDs this way;


·          “IEDs are intended to incapacitate or kill and to create intimidation and terror. They are used in unconventional warfare and by definition can be made with almost any type of material and initiator. These “homemade” devices employ pyrotechnic or incendiary chemicals and can be made in combination with toxic chemicals, biological toxins, or radiological material. Although IEDs can be found in varying sizes, functioning methods, containers, and delivery methods, they share a common set of components: some type of explosive fill, an initiation mechanism, a detonator, a power supply for the detonator, and a container. Although the press sometimes refers to them as roadside bombs, IEDs can be in packages, carried in vehicles (“car bombs”), or worn by suicide bombers.”


Using this definition this study will look at a very wide range of potential attack methods against these facilities.


Facilities Working on SVAs


This governmental study will be proceeding at the same time that many of these chemical facilities will be working on completing their Security Vulnerability Assessments under the CFATS regulations. Those SVAs will be looking at two different types of potential IED attacks in their attack scenarios; Vehicle Born Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIEDs) and man-portable devices in the Assault Team Scenario.


It is unclear how this study would help any of the high-risk chemical facilities in the area complete their SVA’s. It should be helpful in the development of the facilities’ Site Security Plan. Unfortunately, the newspaper article makes no mention of the including any private sector input to the study. Hopefully that is a reporting oversight rather than an indication that the chemical facilities are not being included.


Information Sharing


The article notes that this study is expected to be a template for similar examinations in other large urban areas”. High-risk chemical facilities and multiple levels of government should coordinate their preparation for potential terrorist attacks against such facilities. If an effective mechanism is developed in the Houston area to facilitate this type of information sharing if could be very valuable for other areas with high concentrations of chemical facilities.


It is interesting that this is taking place in the district represented by Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Tex). Ms Jackson-Lee is the Chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection of the House Homeland Security Committee. This would make her a valuable ally to have if the decision is made to codify this type of operation.


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