Wednesday, April 8, 2020

COVID-19 and Facility Security

Laurie Thomas has an excellent article over on LinkedIn about COVID-19 and the Maritime Transportation Security Act (MTSA). While there are many technical and administrative details about that program that are different from the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) program, many of the points that Laurie makes apply to the CFATS program as well.


Communications is a key to maintaining regulatory compliance in this unusual situation. With both programs there are two different levels of important communications. The first is program level communications. For the MTSA covered facilities, Laurie notes that following the Maritime Commons blog is a good source for near real time information about program information. For the CFATS program the go-to source is the CFATS Knowledge Center. For unofficial program level news, Laurie has an excellent blog and this blog is a good source for CFATS news.

The second level is communications directed towards the regulators. For MTSA facilities this is communications directed at the Captain of the Port (COTP). For CFATS facilities this would be communication directed at the Infrastructure Security Compliance Division. In both cases, your local inspector is probably a good communications tool.

Compliance Issues

At the facility level, both programs require adherence to an approved security plan for the facility, and the COVID-19 pandemic may cause unexpected problems with those security plans. Neither the Coast Guard nor CISA is going to be surprised if your facility has some compliance issues arise during this pandemic. Personnel issues with security plans are going to be a very common concern. Neither agency has any official plans to waive compliance with the regulatory requirements of either program, but both programs will be willing to work with facilities on alternative methods of compliance.

The key here will be the early identification of problems with the current security plans and communicating those problems to the program authorities. Laurie makes an important point in her article when she says: “If something happens to bring you out of compliance, have an equivalent security measure ready at hand to replace the one that is the issue.” While the COPT or ISCD may not fully accept that ‘equivalent security measure’ it shows that you are interested in maintaining compliance and may make it easier for them to suggest a more appropriate response. Remember, they are hearing about these problems from a number of facilities and will have heard other options that may apply to your situation.

One of the most common problems that will arise during this pandemic will be a shortage of security personnel, especially at facilities that are shut down or working reduced shifts. COVID-19 quarantines are going to inevitably put some security officers off-line because of having COVID-19 symptoms or being exposed to someone with the disease. Some common mitigation measures will be:

• Increasing patrols by local law enforcement;
• Sharing patrol resources with other local facilities; or
• Using facility personnel to fill in for security officers.

Shutdown Alternative

For CFATS facilities, remember that status as a covered facility is dependent on the presence of chemicals of interest. Working down inventory levels to below the screening threshold quantity (STQ) may allow ISCD to remove the facility from the CFATS program. Even drastically reducing the on-hand levels without achieving sub-STQ levels may allow ISCD to reduce the Tier ranking for the facility or even remove the facility from the CFATS program. Talk with your chemical security inspector about this possibility. If you take this route, remember that a new Top Screen will have to be initiated when the facility goes back into operation.

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