Monday, August 5, 2013

CFATS – Emergency Response

There is an interesting article at about a complaint that Rep. Waxman (D,CA) has filed with Secretary Napolitano about a CFATS inspection in his District. The article is a little misleading in that it seems to indicate that Congressman Waxman is complaining about the CFATS failure to address chemical safety issues at a liquefied petroleum storage facility in Rancho Palos Verde, CA, a complaint more appropriately directed at the EPA. A reading of Waxman’s actual letter to the Secretary points a more disturbing if incomplete picture.

Waxman’s letter clearly acknowledges the different focuses of the EPA’s Risk Management Plan program and the DHS Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards program. The letter goes on to note that Waxman’s office had been informed by DHS that the Rancho Palos Verde facility “had just undergone a ‘successful CFATS inspection’”. Since no actual site security plant inspections have taken place yet (the first of those is not scheduled until later this year) what must have been meant was that either a pre-authorization or a pre-approval visit by Chemical Security Inspectors. In either case, it seems that DHS has either authorized or approved the submitted site security plan.

Emergency Response Plan

What raises concern here is the apparent level of detail that the inspectors relied upon in their review of the site security plan. According to Waxman’s staff who reviewed the inspection record (more about that later) the CSI relied on information provided by a “senior representative of the company’s management” to verify that an emergency response plan had been provided to local emergency responders while the EPA had verified that no such plan was on file with local emergency response personnel.

Now, if this was the pre-authorization visit, conducted to ensure that DHS had all of the necessary information necessary to properly review the site security plan, I can understand why an actual visit to the local fire station was not made, there is a lot of Congressional pressure on ISCD to complete the authorization of site security plans and these pre-authorization visits are not inspections in any stretch of the definition.

But, if this was the pre-approval visit, I would be very concerned if the site visit did not include a side trip to the local fire station to see what kind of relationship the facility had with local first responders. But, again, it must be made clear that this was not an inspection of the site security plan implementation, it was a check to see if the basis of the plan was adequate.

To be sure, Waxman’s staff does not appear to have actually checked with the local fire station either. The letter makes it clear that they are relying on an EPA report and it is not clear if the EPA report precedes or follows the ISCD site visit. If it precedes the visit, the facility may very possibly corrected the deficiency noted by providing a copy of the emergency response plan to the local first responders by the time the CSI arrived on the scene.

Congressional Confusion

This does go to show part of the problem between Congress and ISCD. Waxman is the Ranking Member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, one of the two committees with some sort of oversight responsibility for CFATS. If he doesn’t understand the difference between a site security plan authorization, a site security plan approval, and a site security plan inspection, then ISCD has done a real poor job of explaining their program to one of the most important Congressional overseers of the CFATS program.

CFATS Disclosures

The fact that a facility is covered by the CFATS program, and their status within that program is information covered by the Chemical-terrorism Vulnerability Information (CVI) program. This information is only supposed to be shared with people that have a need to know and have been trained in the handling requirements for that information.

Now DHS is required to share such information with members of Congress, particularly senior members of the committees which oversee the program. And members of Congress are not required to undergo the CVI training. They are not held to the letter of the law when it comes to the disclosure of such information for obvious political reasons. But, they should obey the intent of the law; to protect vulnerable facilities from needless disclosure of their vulnerabilities.

I fully understand Congressman Waxman’s concern for the safety of his constituents that live and work near this facility. I understand his concern with the apparent shortcomings in the emergency planning associated with this facility. I applaud his directing this to the attention of the Secretary.

What I take exception to is the political grandstanding involved in the press release and publication of this letter. If there had not been a response in a reasonable amount of time, then yes, the glare of publicity would need to be shone brightly on the problem. That is patently not the case here. Particularly when it is apparent that the EPA, the agency responsible for chemical safety, is already taking steps to rectify the situation.

It is just this type of political grandstanding that make is difficult to convince people in the private sector to disclose any manner of sensitive information to the government; and who can blame them.

Interdepartmental Communications

The overlap between security and safety is definitely clear in this particular case. It is also clear that both the EPA and DHS need essentially the same information from this particular facility in regards to its emergency response plan. Sharing of such information will make both agencies for efficient and effective. This is a prime example of what the President’s new chemical safety and security executive order should be all about.

When one agency learns of a discrepancy in something like the emergency response planning for a covered facility, it should be immediately shared with the other. That is obvious. What is not so obvious is how to go about institutionalizing that information sharing while maintaining appropriate information safeguards. That will be one of the tough issues that the Chemical Safety and Security Working Group will have to work out.

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