DHS needs more authority to secure chemical plants
The Department of Homeland Security has relied primarily on voluntary efforts to keep U.S. chemical plants secure. The Government Accountability Office says DHS needs more authority to force those plants to increase security in a new report.
“Existing laws provide DHS with only limited authority to address security at chemical facilities,” the report says. “(Although there are) voluntary efforts, the extent to which companies are addressing security is unclear.
DHS still cannot order chemical facilities to perform risk assessments, pointing out where they are vulnerable to attacks and to address the situation. Other agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, do have such authority, GAO says. The EPA requires drinking water facilities to improve security.
Homeland Security has identified about 3,400 chemical facilities that pose the greatest hazard to the public if attacked. It is developing a plan to prioritize at-risk chemical facilities and to develop programs to prevent and recover from attacks.
While voluntary efforts are under way, industry officials say they face challenges in preparing facilities against terrorism, including high costs and limited guidance on how much security is adequate. Some industry associations require member companies to assess plants’ vulnerabilities, develop and implement plans to mitigate vulnerabilities, and have a third party verify that security measures were implemented. Other associations have developed security guidelines and other tools to encourage their members to address security.
In a written response to the GAO audit, DHS said it doubts that safer technologies would help and instead only would shift risks from one facility to another rather than eliminate them.