Monday, August 22, 2011

First Hurricane of 2011 Season Targets Florida

Today the National Hurricane Center named the first Hurricane of the 2011 Season, Hurricane Irene. Currently just off of the Northeast coast of Puerto Rico, Irene is a Category 1 hurricane. The current track carries it toward the East coast of Florida. That track has it skirting the entire East Coast Friday as it heads generally North-northeast with a possible landfall on the Georgia coast early Saturday morning. The National Hurricane center reminds people that the current track is an estimate and that the “most recent 5-year average errors at those forecast times [four and five days] are 200 and 250 miles...respectively”.

While it has been a couple of years since a hurricane has hit the State of Florida, I’m sure the residents and resident companies all have an idea of what they need to do to prepare for this potentially major hurricane. I would like to point out that in addition to typical safety precautions high-risk chemical facilities need to consider the potential security implications for a hurricane.

Thanks to the folks at the I have found a copy of a 2003 DHS ‘Red Cell’ report on those security implications (NOTE PI is having legal issues, you will have to view a cahed copy of this document). Actually, it does not directly address chemical facilities (surprise…not) but it does point out a number of attack vulnerabilities that could apply to CFATS facilities. It’s well worth reading the four page document.

SECURITY WARNING: This eight-year-old document is marked FOUO. Under the WIKI Leaks rules issued by the Obama Administration, viewing this document by government employees or contractors might result in them being subject to disciplinary action up-to and including termination.

Chemically Targeting Evacuation Routes

One important area to consider is the potential for terrorists targeting evacuation routes. The report notes in its ‘Pre-Event’ table the possible impacts of this type of attack:

• Mass panic
• Possible high casualties
• Destabilization
• Loss of public confidence in the government
• Immobile population
• Increased media coverage

A very high-profile attack on these routes could be effected by using a tank-truck or rail car of hazardous materials. It wouldn’t have to be a spectacular or even particularly effective attack in this situation. In fact, even a visible attack with non-hazardous chemicals could have a pretty devastating effect in the highly charged atmosphere of an evacuation. A visible attack on a chemical facility located along an evacuation route would be even more effective at destabilization.

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