The state of chemical security regulations: DHS weighs in

A few weeks from now, security experts from around the country will be gathering in Houston, Texas to kick off the Chemical Sector Security Summit. The annual summit provides a constructive forum for industry and agency officials to discuss pressing issues related to the safety and security of chemical facilities.

Attendees will be discussing a wide-range of security related issues but one of primary topics of conversation at this year’s summit will certainly be around the progress of the Chemical Facility Anti-terrorism Standards (CFATS) and its future.

The following Q&A with the Department of Homeland Security’s Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary, David Wulf provides some useful insight into how CFATS is progressing and what enhancements are in store.

What is special about this year’s Chemical Sector Security Summit?

This is the 11th Summit, and the first being held outside the national capital region. Deciding to host the Summit in Houston is part of a larger focus that the DHS Office of Infrastructure Protection is placing on bringing our services and experts closer to the communities we serve.  In the last year, we’ve established 10 regional offices – one in each of the 10 standard Federal regions – and are staffing them with experts who will support programs focusing on security at critical infrastructure.

At the Summit, we’ll be covering topics ranging from a Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) update and compliance lessons learned to the Internet of Things. As in past years, Summit registration is free and open to the public. Check it out at www.dhs.gov/chemical-sector-security-summit.

How much progress has CFATS made in helping secure chemical facilities?

Since its inception, the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) program has made significant progress in helping secure high-risk chemical facilities in the United States. The CFATS program has reached maturity; the majority of facilities have completed the security plan approval process. DHS continues to engage strongly with industry, from identifying high-risk chemical facilities to developing security plans with security measures that ensure high-risk chemicals do not fall into the wrong hands.

CFATS currently covers 2,892 high-risk chemical facilities nationwide. The current focus of the program is on ensuring that covered facilities continue to implement their approved security plans and comply with the regulation. So far, CFATS has conducted 2,920 authorization (or pre-approval) inspections, approved a total of 2,270 security plans, and completed a total of 2,254 compliance inspections. Since most high-risk facilities now have approved plans in place, DHS is able to focus on conducting compliance inspections and creating a stronger culture of security; about 90% of inspections are now post-approval compliance inspections.

What has DHS done to improve the program?

The Department of Homeland Security has made several enhancements to the CFATS program over the years, taking into account lessons learned. The Department worked with industry stakeholders to provide company-specific solutions, instead of a one-size-fit-all approach, streamlined processes, and provided more training to staff.

The most significant programmatic improvement has been the release of the Chemical Security Assessment Tool 2.0, which modernized our online tools and drastically improved the user experience. CSAT 2.0 accompanied the release of the enhanced tiering methodology, which more accurately identifies and tiers high-risk chemical facilities.

Since fall of last year, DHS has been notifying facilities of the requirement to resubmit Top-Screens. Based on the analysis of incoming submissions, the CFATS population may see some shifts. The primary drivers behind these changes are facilities reporting new chemicals on their Top-Screens, the addition of physics-based modeling for theft/diversion chemicals, and improvements to the plume modeling for certain release chemicals.

During authorization inspections, the CFATS program has benefitted significantly from working with the regulated community to identify efficiencies that can be gained through a corporate approach. This included working with corporations on scheduling of inspections, identifying corporate-driven procedures and policies, and establishing facility and DHS points of contact for corporations. DHS is in the process of creating a similar corporate approach for compliance inspections.

Specifically, DHS is looking into options for updating points of contact and reviewing corporate procedures, policies and records. This review would streamline the on-site facility inspection; however, each facility would still be responsible for demonstrating their compliance with the corporate procedures.

How can Congress help keep CFATS on track?

The Protecting and Securing Chemical Facilities from Terrorist Attack Act of 2014 enjoyed strong stakeholder support and granted four-year authorization to the program, ensuring a coordinated effort between government and industry to better secure the nation’s high-risk chemical facilities through smart and efficient security investments.

With long-term authorization, chemical facilities of interest have become further incentivized to engage with the Department with regard to facility security and are deterred from ignoring CFATS obligations in hopes that the program will be allowed to expire. However, for all of the milestones of maturation the CFATS Program has met, and for all of its efforts to keep dangerous chemicals out of the hands of those who wish this nation harm, if this Congress fails to act, CFATS will expire.

We need look no further than events which have taken place in Belgium, Syria, and France, and the continuing threat stream to know that this is not a time to stop addressing the security threat posed by chemicals. Chemical security is very much a pressing need, and continued authorization for the CFATS Program is a major step toward meeting it. The Department looks forward to working with Congress to chart a path forward that further streamlines and enhances the program while preserving strong security standards.

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