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Assessing Risks and Vulnerabilities in US Chemical Facilities

By: Warren Silverman, MD FACOEM, Medical Director, Workplace Forensics LLC

Following the attacks of 9/11, there was a realization that the open freedoms of the society in the United States created massive vulnerabilities for those who wish to harm us. With an analysis of these dangers, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was tasked to come up with comprehensive regulations and guidelines to reduce the risk of a chemical-related disaster by limiting the vulnerability of industrial sites which use and store these chemicals. In 2007, DHS established this regulatory program, known as the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS).

Under CFATS, facilities are required to monitor for such chemicals, report possession of chemicals above regulated thresholds, and implement security measures. The areas of concern are theft or diversion of substances capable of being used as a weapon, sabotage or contamination causing explosion or release, or the release as an explosive or a toxic or flammable cloud. DHS has the authority to inspect facilities for compliance with CFATS, impose civil penalties up to $25,000 per day, and shut down facilities that fail to comply with these regulations.

Since the implementation of CFATS, there have been significant advances in technology from a diverse new world of capabilities. In many cases, coordination between safety and security becomes a major strategy, and meetings between these teams may promote best practice deterrents. In the years since the standards were implemented, technologies have advanced. This includes the widespread availability and increased sophistication of drones.

Drones can now be found in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, forms, and capabilities. Identifying the origins of control of these devices and recognizing their presence may be difficult. Drones are not only airborne but can be found in liquid or other environments as well.

The artificial intelligence controlling robots and other invasive machinery is rapidly developing such that we shall soon see robots that can independently achieve a mission without control by a human.

Micro-robots can be dropped into an area where they can move about in a stealth fashion without being noticed.

Hacking into the control systems of facilities is rapidly becoming a major means of inflicting damage and can be accomplished from anywhere on earth and potentially in the future from extraterrestrial control.

Study of the new technologies being researched and developed by the military and foreign governments is helpful for anticipating future developments, and security teams should try to stay aware of information as it becomes available. As issues related to COVID-19 begin to leave the spotlight, now may be a good time to do a reassessment of your areas of vulnerability, as it relates to the chemicals and substances used in your work environments. Looking at some of the new technologies and artificial intelligence should be integrated into your defenses.

Artificial intelligence can be utilized not only on offense but also toward efforts of our safety and security capabilities by taking over much of this responsibility. Even if these capabilities are not yet fully developed, the 5- and 10-year plans of the future should begin to integrate and project areas of development of proper defenses. Let’s tighten things up a bit!