Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Armed Security at Chemical Facilities – Part 1


Earlier this week, while writing my post about the ChemLock active shooter exercises, my first thought when I read the scenario for the exercise is that it was extremely unrealistic, because such a quick end to the shooter could only have been brought about by an armed security guard, police would not react that quickly. It was unrealistic because chemical facilities do not use armed guards. If you have not worked at chemical facilities in this country, you may not realize just how nearly universal that statement is. The big reason is SAFETY.

To give you an example of how deep this runs, let me tell you a story about the time an FBI agent visited a specialty chemical facility at which I worked to provide the initial notification that we would be inspected by Chemical Weapons Convention inspection team. The Agent was brought into the Plant Manager’s Office and introduced himself. The Plant Manager asked if the Agent was armed. When informed that he was, the Manager asked if the Agent would mind locking his weapon in his vehicle. There was no question from the Agent, he just excused himself, returned to his car and then came back into the office. No more was said. He obviously had gone through this before.

The facility was in the South and the Plant Manager was not some liberal anti-gun fanatic. He was an outdoorsman and while not much of a hunter, he owned at least a couple of guns. During dear season about half of the employee vehicles parked outside the fence line because they hunted before or after (frequently both) work. Guns were not allowed inside the facility and the hunters did not complain. That was life in a chemical facility.

Why this concern about firearms? It is not worry about active shooters, per se. It is the fact that firearms are more inherently dangerous in chemical facilities. This is for two reasons, the most obvious being the bullet flying unguided through the facility are likely to puncture things that are better off not punctured, piping, chemical storage containers, and storage tank. Those punctures are likely to result in chemicals being released into the atmosphere in places they are not supposed to be and in a manner that is not easy to stop. How bad would the leaks be from a bullet? See this video (https://youtu.be/skOdPBtm-zs).

The second reason is less easy for many folks to understand, and it is related to the fact that firearms are short range flame throwers, just watch any shooting in the dark. Open flames are allowed in chemical facilities only in tightly controlled situations and gun fights are not tightly controlled.

Any chemical facility that uses, produces or stores flammable liquids and gasses takes a great deal of interest in preventing even the smallest of open flames or sparks. They even go to the extent of placing electronics and switches in sealed boxes filled with Nitrogen gas so that small electric sparks from those devices do not ignite flammable atmospheres.

A flammable atmosphere can form any time a flammable liquid or gas is exposed to the open air. This can happen when a container is opened, or a nearly empty hose is disconnected, or an unusual leak occurs. The vapors in the air can be ignited by a spark or flame, creating a fireball of varying sizes and consequences. Large enough, those fireballs can create an overpressure that damages other containers or connections releasing more flammable vapors.

So, you can see why chemical professionals do not like the idea of firearms on premises at chemical facilities.

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