Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Off-Site Mitigation

Facilities that have large quantities of toxic release chemicals on site have a special security problem. It is not possible to completely prevent a successful terrorist attack on any facility. At best you can make it operationally unattractive, but you cannot provide 100% assurance that you can stop a determined, well equipped and trained attacker from executing a successful attack. And, of course, there is always the potential for an accidental release. So what can you do to protect the nearby community form deadly toxic chemical cloud? Well, there is a very good article over on GovTech.com that describes the techniques that the Umatilla Chemical Depot has used to answer that question for the 80,000 nearby residents with regards to potential releases of the chemical warfare agents stored at that facility. The article describes the complex network of sensor and communications links that allows the facility to detect a CW leak and predict the off-site consequence, and then execute a detailed response to ensure the protection of the nearby community. The article makes it clear that it was not the Umatilla Chemical Depot that was the driving force behind the development and implementation of the system described in the article. It was local emergency response personnel that realized that it was ultimately their job to protect the local citizens. The facility provided technical assistance and would provide initial notification of the release, but it is a variety of local governments and agencies that will be responsible for executing the off-site emergency response plan. There was nothing in the article that described who paid for the system development and maintenance. Since this is a Federal installation the assumption can certainly be made that there were a number of FEMA grants that were used to finance this system. Who would be responsible if Umatilla were a privately owned manufacturing company instead of an arm of the federal government is more complicated. Some FEMA grants would still be available, but most would come from local government coffers, and one would hope, ‘donations’ from the facility. Facilities need to remember that their authority to establish emergency response plans stops at their fence line. Outside that perimeter it is only the government (at a variety of levels) that can close roads, open shelters, direct evacuations, and a myriad of other response activities. The facility still needs to provide technical advicee about the hazards associated with the chemicals, the initial alert information and what ever appropriate updates as they become available.

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