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Building a strong foundation for chemical security regulations

By Amy Graydon, Guest contributor 

Chemicals are essential to our everyday lives. It is hard to think of a field that does not use chemicals—from developing medicines and providing refrigeration for our food supply, to manufacturing fuel for our vehicles and building microchips for our smartphones. We rarely think of these helpful building blocks as having the potential to be weaponized or used to cause significant harm by terrorists. Chemicals have been used in terrorist attacks in the past causing great injury, and even death. When certain chemicals are not secure, we are not secure.

Optimized-shutterstock_104506964It is precisely this concern that gave rise to congressional efforts to address chemical security. In 2007, Congress established, through the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards, a regulatory framework aimed at identifying and regulating high-risk facilities that possess certain hazardous chemicals at specific concentrations and quantities. In 2014, Congress reauthorized and amended the program through the Protecting and Securing Chemical Facilities from Terrorist Attacks Act of 2014.

CFATS is now 10 years old, and covers approximately 3,500 facilities nationwide. Over the last few years it has become clear that, with every year that goes by, the program becomes more mature. The success of CFATS can be attributed not only to the work done by the men and women of DHS’s National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD), but also to the members of industry. These owners and operators have spent millions of dollars and have implemented thousands of new security measures in place and provided continuous feedback to the Department on how to better secure America’s highest-risk chemical facilities. The CFATS risk-based performance standards have become the new normal and the cornerstone of America’s chemical security culture.

The CFATS program works with covered chemical facilities to ensure they have security measures in place to reduce the risks associated with certain hazardous chemicals, called chemicals of interest (COI), and prevent them from being exploited in an attack. NPPD has designated 322 chemicals as COI in a list known as the Appendix A. Facilities are regulated on a risk-based approach that allows us to focus resources on high-risk chemical facilities according to their specific level of risk. NPPD conducts inspections as part of the security plan review and approval process, as well as regular compliance inspections once security plans are approved.

Many think of CFATS as a regulatory program for large chemical facilities. However, chemicals of interest are used in a variety of fields. The program’s community of interest is very diverse, and the regulation is applicable to many industries, including chemical manufacturing, storage and distribution, energy and utilities, agriculture and food, explosives, mining, electronics, plastics, universities, laboratories, paint and coatings, healthcare and pharmaceuticals, pools and waterparks, wineries and breweries, and even a few prisons.

In fall 2016, CFATS embarked on a new chapter. After working for nearly three years with experts from across the chemical security community, NPPD rolled out the enhanced tiering methodology and improved Chemical Security Assessment Tool (CSAT) 2.0 tool. The new enhanced methodology further solidified the science behind the risk models, and CSAT 2.0 reduced the burden on industry by decreasing the amount of time it takes to submit the required paperwork to comply with CFATS.

At the beginning, the initiative of reevaluating risk for approximately 27,000 chemical facilities felt enormous. NPPD began the process of notifying each facility to resubmit their Top-Screen survey and re-tier them based on the enhanced methodology. But, for the CFATS team, every challenge is turned into an opportunity. In just one year, the program not only notified all facilities, but also received over 28,000 unique facility Top-Screen submissions, and issued more than to 29,000 tiering determination letters. Of the roughly 3,500 facilities that are currently assessed as high-risk, 2,327 have approved security plans in place, while the rest are in the works.

As we wrap up CFATS’ first decade, we will continue to work on the retiering efforts and compliance inspections, as well as challenge ourselves to identify additional ways to more efficiently execute the program going forward.  This goes hand-in-hand as we work with Congress on new authorizing legislation that continues to streamline the process while advancing security, and providing well-deserved longer-term stability to the chemical security community.

Chemical security is not a temporary issue. As threats evolve, the CFATS mission continues to be more relevant than ever. The Department is committed to continue working with stakeholders from industry, labor, and the public sector to protect America’s highest-risk chemical infrastructure.

Amy Graydon is the Acting Director of the Infrastructure Security Compliance Division at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s National Protection and Programs Directorate.

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