Wednesday, February 18, 2009

CFATS and Research Labs

An alert reader sent me a copy of a portion of a newsletter sent from the Council on Government Relations (COGR) to its member colleges and universities (see page 9 of the complete document). It discusses the results of a couple of meetings between DHS and a variety of organizations representing colleges and universities about the level of compliance of educational laboratories with the reporting requirements of CFATS. DHS was aware early on that there would be a number of college and university labs that would fall under the CFATS definition of a chemical facility. Because of the chemical and biological research done at some of these facilities it was inevitable that a significant number of these facilities would be required to submit a Top Screen because they had more than a STQ of one or more DHS chemicals of interest (COI) on site. And, because of the potential threat presented by these chemicals, some of those facilities would be declared by the Secretary to be high-risk chemical facilities that would have continued responsibilities under CFATS. Top Screen Submissions According to this newsletter a total of 380 college and university facilities submitted initial Top Screens. Of these 204 were declared high-risk facilities. The tier rankings are provided below. It should be noted that the Tier 1 facilities are the highest risk facilities in the rankings.
Tier 4 112 Tier 3 56 Tier 2 30 Tier 1 6
It should be noted that that this is a much higher ‘high-risk’ rate than the general run of Top Screen Submissions. There were a total of about 35,000 Top Screens resulting in a little over 7,000 high-risk facilities or one-in-five. School labs had a closer to one-in-two rate. The reason is probably related to the fact that most of the COI found at these labs above the STQ were theft/diversion COI instead of release COI. Compliance Outreach The newsletter goes on to say that DHS believes that the number of Top Screen submissions was significantly lower than what it should have been. Apparently DHS made it clear that they did not believe this was due to willful non-compliance, but rather an inadequate understanding of the requirements. COGR claims that DHS plans to do a pilot program of compliance checks on select schools in New York and New Jersey. First they would look in the literature for the types of research being done at high-risk labs. They would then look for schools with similar research programs that did not submit Top Screens. Those schools would get ‘on-site’ visits to determine if the school did not understand the requirement, or that they made a legitimate determination that they did not need to file a Top Screen. Interestingly the folks at DHS claim that they have no such plans. My sources explain that DHS has informed COGR that they reserved the right to call any site, university or otherwise, to ask why they did not do a Top-Screen. It would seem like the COGR plan would be an expensive effort, especially while the SSP roll-out was still pending. Besides, there are almost certainly more risky facilities out there than the odd college lab; that’s where I would bet that DHS would expend its limited inspector force looking for non-compliant facilities. Facility Description Complications One of the problems that DHS is certainly going to run into is how to define what a chemical facility is in a college or university setting. In the preamble to the final rule, DHS made it clear that they did not expect the facility to be defined as the entire campus and would allow schools a large measure of latitude in how they defined their facilities. Potentially, a school could take this to an extreme and count each individual laboratory as a separate facility; this would greatly reduce the number of potential facilities with an STQ of a COI. Looking Ahead to SSP The two hundred some odd high-risk labs identified so far are looking forward with some trepidation to developing their site security plans. The educational institutions have a number of concerns about the draft guidance document issued in November and its impact on their SSP’s. They are concerned that the interpretation of the risk-based performance measures outlined in that document was targeted at industrial rather than research facilities. This newsletter briefly addresses these concerns. The COGR notes that the Campus Safety Health Environmental Management Association (CSHEMA) is in continuing discussions with DHS to try to “integrate the Performance Standards into an Alternative Security Plan that is flexible enough to be used as a template by institutions”. This was not the original intent of the ASP program. Again going back to the final rule preamble, DHS intended for facilities that had already developed and implemented a site security plan that conformed to the Center for Chemical Process Safety (CCPS) guidelines to be able to use that plan in lieu of the CSAT based format. DHS might find it expedient to allow the laboratory community to come up with such a template.

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