Monday, April 26, 2010

Security and CSB IST Study

This weekend I heard a reader comment on my blog last week on the CSB IST study. He noted that there was nothing in the CSB notice that said anything about security and asked why I thought that it would have an effect on the CFATS IST debate. That’s a question that certainly deserves discussion here. IST Proponents First off, inherently safer technology (IST) has always been a safety technique. That fact is explicit in the name as well as in how the concept was developed by the chemical safety community. Even the people that insist that the concept has application to security for high-risk chemical facilities acknowledge that this is a safety issue. They argue that, if chemical processes at a high-risk facility were made inherently safer, then the facility would not be a potential terrorist target. Or, at least, it would be at a lower risk for being targeted. Actually, the most vocal proponents mandating IST provisions in the renewal of CFATS authority are not as concerned about a terrorist attack causing a toxic release, as they are concerned about the potential for a toxic release from any cause. They certainly have a point since, extrapolating from recent history, an accidental release is more likely than a terrorist caused release. The cause of the release is not really important to most of the IST proponents. IST Opponents Opponents to including an IST mandate in CFATS reauthorization legislation do not argue with the basic idea that techniques for reducing the risk for a toxic release will reduce the attractiveness of the facility as a target. What concerns them is the apparent belief that it is a relatively simple matter to replace highly toxic chemicals with less toxic alternatives. They are concerned that an assessment procedure that does not adequately address the complexity of chemical processes has the serious potential to disrupt or even shut down their businesses. Since there is no established methodology for identifying and evaluating the application of IST techniques, opponents are concerned that legislators or DHS administrators could establish administrative review techniques to evaluate potential techniques. These reviews could then result in mandated application of techniques that would adversely affect either the manufacturing process or its financial stability. Safety professionals are concerned that a potentially limited and simplistic evaluation procedure will not address the shifting of potential risk from an existing facility to some other location, either in transit or at another physical plant. They fear that assessments that do not address the potential shift of risk may actually increase the over all societal risk. NAS IST Study The National Academy of Sciences study being commissioned by the Chemical Safety Board (CSB) may go a long way to helping to resolve at least some of these differences. If the study is able to produce an assessment methodology that adequately addresses the complexity of the processes involved, then there will be less resistance to the inclusion of such an assessment in a security analysis for high-risk facilities. Of course, the important phrase in the previous paragraph is “adequately addresses the complexity of the processes involved”. For this NAS study to resolve this political discussion, there will have to be a consensus in both communities that the study participants represent a proper mix of experts and the parameters of their investigation have been adequately defined. A one-sided panel, either way, will be ignored by the other side. A flawed study will be of no use either. Now I am not naive enough to assume that there is even a remote possibility that there can be an NAS study that will completely eliminate the differences on this political issue. There are people on both sides of the issue that will never admit that the other side has legitimate concerns. What a properly designed and executed study will do is to provide political cover for moderate politicians on both sides to come up with a compromise measure that can be approved. Adequate Design With the importance of this study extending beyond one facility in Institute, WV, it is very important that the design is up to the political task. I am concerned that the 15-day comment period that the CSB has established for this study is inadequate to the task. Corporate decision makers are notoriously slow to respond calls for public comments on controversial topics. The process of identifying and addressing issues, developing a written response, and then vetting that response through the various internal communities in a large organization does not happen quickly. I understand the urgency of this particular situation in West Virginia. But, given the fact that there will be at least 12 months before this study is completed, an additional ‘delay’ of 15 days is not unreasonable. A 30-day comment period will be inadequate for some commentors, but is an established standard used in developing many rules. I am sure that the next couple of days will see comments filed requesting this type of extension of the comment period. I urge the CSB to extend their comment period to 30-days to protect the political viability of the proposed study.

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