Tuesday, July 6, 2010

First Responder Background Checks

In Saturday’s blog about the FAQ updates I kind of glossed over the DHS response to question 1368 since the answer wasn’t new. That question dealt with whether or not first responders like fire department personnel are required to under go background checks under the CFATS rules. The DHS response to that question was a straightforward:
“6 CFR Part 27 does not require that fire department personnel undergo background checks.”
At first glance that seems to directly contradict the CFATS regulations. Section 27.230(12) outlines the risk-based performance standards requirements for personnel surety. It explains that the facility would need to conduct “appropriate background checks on and ensure appropriate credentials for facility personnel, and as appropriate [emphasis added], for unescorted visitors with access to restricted areas or critical assets”. The words ‘as appropriate’ would appear to give DHS the necessary wiggle room to essentially exempt first responders from the personnel surety program coverage. The exemption would certainly seem to be reasonable. After all, when a fire truck shows up at the front gate with lights flashing on its way to a on-site fire, no one wants to slow them down to make sure that all the firemen are on an approved access list. The question then becomes, who else could be covered under the ‘as appropriate’ exemption. Lacking specific guidance from DHS (and that may be coming, according to rumors, in an NPRM outlining a DHS program for TSDB checks) it would be up to the facility to define in its SSP which off-site personnel would be exempt from the background check requirements of its facility personnel surety program. Of course, those exemptions would have to be approved by DHS, so the facility must be prepared to justify those listings. There is, of course, another class of people that are already exempted from the personnel surety program requirements, a wide variety of Federal inspectors. Section 27.405(1) makes it clear that the CFATS regulations do not supersede requirements allowing inspectors access to covered facilities.

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