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Picking up the pace: Q&A with DHS director David Wulf on chemical security

By any measure, it’s been a very productive year for advancing the effort to secure chemical facilities and protect communities. Thanks to a strong commitment by leadership at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Agency has made significant progress addressing issues with the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) and strengthening its working relationship with the regulated community. And, according to new data, this collective effort is helping CFATS deliver solid results.

Congress has also taken steps to help ensure the success of CFATS. Thanks to the efforts of Chairmen Michael McCaul and Patrick Meehan, along with Representative Gene Green, for the first time ever, authorizing legislation to extend the program won bipartisan approval and passed the full House. A similar effort is being led in the Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee by Chairman Thomas Carper and Ranking Member Tom Coburn.

Beyond DHS and CFATS, an interagency Working Group released a report that outlined a series of current and future actions to improve the effectiveness of current regulations under Executive Order 13650, “Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security.”

To help put all of this activity into perspective and discuss what might be on the horizon, we caught up with DHS Director of the Infrastructure Security Compliance Division, David Wulf right before the start of the Chemical Sector Security Summit to ask him a series of questions.

DHS has spent a great deal of effort addressing some of the issue with CFATS, what kind of progress can you report today?

When speaking with stakeholders in the CFATS community, I’m frequently asked to assess the ways in which CFATS is making America’s highest risk chemical infrastructure more secure. Looking at the big picture, thousands of facilities have assessed their vulnerabilities to terrorist attack/exploitation, and those that have been deemed to be high-risk have developed Site Security Plans (or Alternative Security Programs) addressing the 18 Risk-Based Performance Standards that form the core of the CFATS Program. I’m pleased to report that the CFATS program has turned the corner over the last two years, and the Department has continued to see enormous progress. We’ve improved our internal procedures to the point where the number of security plans authorized, inspected and approved has increased more than twofold from where we were this time last year, and we are regularly topping 100 inspections a month. We’ve listened to what we’ve been hearing from stakeholders to develop game changing processes to continue to increase our pace, improve efficiency, and tackle the remaining plans without sacrificing quality.

As of July 17, we’ve authorized 1,767 facility security plans, conducted 1,305 authorization inspections, and approved 950 security plans. We have also begun to conduct compliance inspections at facilities that received plan approvals about a year ago, verifying that security continues to meet the risk based performance standards and that planned measures are being implemented. I personally find it very satisfying to see compliance inspections taking place — they represent our progress toward a mature, steady cycle of compliance for the CFATS-regulated population.

In light of the recent progress you have made with CFATS, has the industry played an important role in this latest success? If so, how?

I firmly believe that DHS and the chemical industry have a shared stake in the success of the CFATS program, and I have been struck by the commitment members of the American Chemistry Council (ACC) and stakeholders across the Chemical and Oil/Natural Gas sectors have shown to working with DHS to foster the security of our nation’s highest-risk chemical infrastructure. Several of the game changers that we’ve implemented were generated from meetings with industry, including our effort to manage some Site Security Plan reviews and inspections at a corporate-level, and assigning DHS “corporate case managers” to companies that maintain multiple CFATS facilities. Companies with more than seven CFATS facilities account for more than a quarter of all CFATS facilities, and where these companies (as is frequently the case) have security policies that apply across all of their facilities, it should be possible to streamline the review, authorization, and approval of these facilities’ security plans. Along with continued efforts to streamline the inspection process and optimize inspection-scheduling, these initiatives will continue to move the program forward as we move into the regular cycle of compliance-inspections for facilities with approved plans.

Additionally, industry’s insight has been invaluable in assisting to make our online suite of tools –including the tool facilities use to build their Site Security Plans (SSPs) – more user-friendly. Some of the upgrades that we have executed over the last year – from internal improvements to navigation to pre-populating Site Security Plan survey questions on resubmissions – are directly attributable to feedback from industry associations and their members.

Which areas would you like to work on with industry to further improve CFATS?

We need industry to continue to work with us as we build the future of the CFATS program, pushing our program to the next level and maturing our organization. We’re continually looking to make improvements and to build on the lessons from which both we and industry are learning as the number of approved security plans in place continues to grow. Organizations such as ACC continue to work closely with the Department to develop the “next-generation” of Alternative Security Plan templates which will leverage the best practices culled from the more than 900 Security Plans that have received final DHS approval. These Alternative Security Plan templates are expected to further streamline the Plan-development and review processes.

We are also hoping to initiate the rulemaking process to help identify how to make the CFATS program more effective. The most recent Unified Agenda has the Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) slated for publication in August 2014.

How does the release of the Executive Order 13650 report impact the future of CFATS?

If there is one takeaway on EO report that I want everyone to remember, it’s that all the Agencies and Departments involved with the Executive Order consider the report to be a milestone, not an end-point, on the path to improving chemical facility safety and security. Ensuring the Safety and security of chemical facilities is a shared commitment, involving the public, Federal, State, and local governments, first responders, community organizations, labor groups, and the facilities and companies that are so critical to our national economy.

The Final Status Report includes an action plan to further minimize risk and continue to change the national landscape of chemical facility safety and security, laying out 25 priority actions in five thematic areas, which include strengthening community planning and preparedness, enhancing Federal operational coordination, improving data management, modernizing policies and regulations, and incorporating stakeholder feedback and developing best practices. In order to move forward on these actions, in addition to a national-level interagency Chemical Safety and Security Executive Committee and Chemical Safety and Security National Working Group, we are providing guidance on responsibilities to regional-level interagency teams across the country. We will also continue to engage industry stakeholders as we move forward to implement the Report’s recommendations.

What does DHS need from Congress to help keep CFATS on track?

I’m pleased to note that the significant forward progress CFATS has realized over the past two years has been recognized on Capitol Hill. The House of Representatives has passed a bill, H.R. 4007, to provide multi-year authorization for the CFATS program. This bill is an important step to provide industry stakeholders with the regulatory certainty you deserve as your facilities plan for and invest in security measures to meet the CFATS risk-based performance measures.

As noted at that hearing, we are hopeful the Senate will act to provide a permanent authorization for CFATS, providing stability to industry to plan and invest in security measures, enabling the Department to focus on continuing to move CFATS forward, and sending a clear message to “outlier” facilities that the CFATS program is here to stay. It will also ensure the CFATS authorization cannot lapse in the future.

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