Wary of potential regulatory intervention, representatives from 17 U.S. chemical companies met April 11-12 at Baltimore-Washington International Airport to work on a plant vulnerability assessment program they are creating from pooled best practices.

TOO CLOSE Plant clusters near cities magnify risk. (Photo courtesy of Spot Image Corp.)

"This is a fast-track project," says David Belonger, staff consultant with New York City-based American Institute of Chemical Engineers’ Center for Chemical Process Safety. The group has been working for five months on a uniform process to help AICE’s 90 member companies assess risks, rank plant vulnerabilities industry-wide, prioritize protective steps and develop incidence response plans tailored to specific facilities.

"We don’t plan to design to stop high-level attacks, but to design to effectively deter, detect or delay an attack or threat," Belonger says. "We want to change a high-impact relatively easily accomplished scenario into a lower-impact, or more difficult-to-accomplish scenario."

The first step, already under way, is a survey of plants to establish priority for addressing security risks. The screen evaluates sites to find out where plants fit at various levels of risk, the likelihood of attack, severity should one occur and the potential of a worst case scenario.

The survey will consider not only the features of plants, but also the potential consequences on nearby population centers or infrastructure should an attack occur.

The second step will be to address the issues at plants deemed most attractive as targets, dividing them into four levels of relative risk. A four-tiered alert system would define specific measures. The approach is built on in-house contributions by AICE members, including BASF Corp., DOW Chemical Co., Bayer Corp. and Du Pont Co.