Distribution facilities, water supplies, information systems and stored chemicals are the parts of the nation's drinking water systems that are most vulnerable to possible terrorist attacks, says a General Accounting Office survey of specialists in the field. In a report released Dec. 2, GAO says water utilities, who have been appropriated more than $100 million for vulnerability assessments since 9-11-2001, are likely to seek more federal aid to improve security of their plants.
GAO said that almost 75% of the 43 drinking water security specialists it surveyed cited distribution facilities as a prime vulnerability for drinking water utilities. Other components singled out were reservoirs and other "source water supplies," critical information systems and storage areas for water treatment chemicals."
Those surveyed listed three water security areas that are "most deserving of federal support." They are: physical and technological improvements; education and training for preventing, responding to and recovering from a terrorist attack; and improving relationships among water utilities and public health and enforcement agencies.
They also said that a "lack of redundancy" of key systems is an overall security issue for water utilities.
In the physical and technological improvements area, nearly 70% of the security specialists said "near real-time monitoring technologies" deserves the highest priority for federal funds. Getting "strong support" from those GAO surveyed were: improving laboratories' ability to handle demand spikes from water supplies that might be contaminated in an attack; and physical security improvements, such as fences, locks, lighting and surveillance equipment.