Robust Systems Guard Chemical Sites

Today's systems integrate with HR databases and background check offerings, providing different levels of access at different times.

Editor's note: The U.S. chemical industry deserves praise for taking care of its own security by spending millions of dollars to harden plants' perimeters, says Jerry Blackman, Honeywell's Global Director of Industrial Security Solutions. Honeywell Security's products for industrial customers (call 602-313-4712 for information) include video recorders, cameras, perimeter control and lobby access systems, intrusion sensors, control panels, and wireless fire and burglary alarm systems. In a Dec. 20, 2005, conversation with Occupational Health & Safety's editor, Blackman discussed how these technologies allow chemical plants and other industrial sites to counter threats and comply with new governmental mandates. Excerpts from the conversation follow:

Generally, is industrial security on a good footing these days or not so good?

Jerry Blackman: I think industry has made huge strides in addressing potential security vulnerabilities at their sites, especially in the United States.

Are you speaking of industry as a whole? Are specific sectors doing very well?

Blackman: I can only speak to the clients that we work with, and obviously because these are security-related matters I really can't reference any specific customers other than Honeywell, because we run a chemical business as well. You saw in the Geismar presentation [a July 2005 case study on the security system at the Honeywell Specialty Materials plant in Geismar, La.] some idea of the types of solutions that we apply to a chemical plant.

We're working with a number of chemical companies that are U.S.-based, and they're addressing their chemical sites in terms of securing the perimeter of these sites, implementing better measures for controlling access--who comes in the site and what areas they have access to--and improving monitoring and surveillance of the site through applying some security technology.

These firms that we work with, they're global in scale and they are not waiting around for any legislation. They've taken the responsibility, really on their own, to implement security measures not just in the United States, but globally, as well. So when I say a lot is being done, that's really where I and my team spend our time: with these customers that are responding to this.

I can't really speak to what percentage of the industry is being proactive like this, because the only ones that we're currently working with are, in fact, proactive. . . . Like in anything, there may be some laggards out there that some of this pending legislation, when it comes out, will force to take action. We know that the industry in general is being very proactive.

As for laws that might be passed, New Jersey just did that, requiring best security practices by all chemical facilities operating in the state. Are others doing something like that or contemplating it?

Blackman: A bill was introduced [in the U.S. Senate on Dec. 19, 2005] that had been worked on for some time: national legislation on implementing better security measures at chemical plants. . . . There's been stuff going on at the federal level for some time, and it's been done in joint collaboration with the chemical industry. There's a lot of thinking that will be acted upon sometime in the first half of [2006].

Would it be helpful to have a national template to follow?

Blackman: The federal government has very specific standards on how security is addressed at the nation's nuclear energy facilities. I think what you're going to see is a very similar approach, where you have some national standards on how security is addressed.

One thing that's happened, though, is that the industry itself has been extremely proactive in working with the Department of Homeland Security and other government entities. So it's not just the government mandating what's to be done; what's going to be prescribed is a joint collaboration between the government and the industry.

Talking about nuclear plants, they've been worried about terrorism for quite a long time. It's not that, with 9/11, they suddenly realized this was a true threat. Did the threat profile change for industrial facilities at 9/11?

Blackman: I think the awareness has always been there. The piece that's really driving it in the post-9/11 world is that the threat is real now. Not that people didn't think it was real, but an event like that raises the consciousness, and people realize something needs to be done.

Chemical plants have always had some sort of perimeter security, but was it not knitted together in the way systems can allow it to be now?

Blackman: There are certain technologies [that have] become much more affordable. The reliability and dependability of these systems have gone up tremendously over the last few years because of the research and development that's taking place.

I think there's a realization that the types of systems that can be enacted today are affordable and do provide real solutions to lessen the likelihood that, if an event happens, it could become catastrophic.

Please describe those systems more fully. What can they do, and how do you go about implementing them?

Blackman: [There are] two big applications on an industrial site that you're looking to implement. One is, how do you control access to the industrial site? You're talking the use of card systems, badging systems, electronic locks, and so forth, so that you're controlling who has access into the site and when. And then, once you get inside the site, there are other areas of special concern that you want to limit further access in.

Varied levels of access within the site are what you're describing?

Blackman: Correct. And when you take a look at the type of people that you have to prevent access to, it's not just employees of the chemical site. These sites make heavy use of subcontract labor. . . . It's more than just presenting a card and locking the door. It's understanding from your subcontractor labor pool who's coming and going.

There are safety requirements--to know as a person has gone into a certain area, have they received the proper safety training?

Right. It's not simply security and access.

Blackman: Not just simple security. How do you integrate a site safety policy into your access control system? In terms of knowing who has access into those areas, there are background checks that have to be done. So when I'm issuing an access card to somebody, sure, I understand that this person needs access, but what do I know about the person in terms of their background? Companies are either implementing background checks on their own, or the subcontractors they hire have to have a robust background check program.

All kinds of policy-related things all of a sudden become operational requirements. And systems today do make heavy use of integrating with HR databases, with background check offerings, providing different levels of access at different times. Or if there's a heightened security threat, maybe controlling access at a higher level. Folks that might have access to certain areas when the threat is not as high, maybe they don't have access to those areas when there's a higher threat. Or perhaps they have to be escorted into an area. These all require your systems to have special features and certain technology that wasn't necessarily available five or six years ago.

So if I'm a security director for a facility and I see someone coming up to a gate who uses a card, the system can tell me in real time whether that person has had the safety training we require for a certain job and also had the background check done, and it checked out?

Blackman: That's correct. Not only can it provide that information; in many instances, a person may be required to renew their safety training every year. How do you know that the person's safety training has been renewed? The types of systems that are available today would have a built-in way of confirming that this person's safety training is current, that the background check is current.

And if those things lapse without any human intervention, the system can tell security personnel that this person needs to renew their safety training so that they're current on all the policies and procedures to follow.

For a big site that uses a lot of contractor personnel on a routine basis, you're talking about a very wide net. That can be done?

Blackman: These are sophisticated sites. It takes a pretty robust system to be able to do those things.

I would think so. If that technology is now within reach and affordable, that's great.

Blackman: The other area that is of very heightened concern: As you can imagine, these industrial sites are very large sites. . . . They have very complex perimeters bordering the site. You may have a waterside perimeter, you may have a forest or a swamp on another perimeter. You may have a perimeter that's urban in nature, with some population living close by.

Such sites usually have highway or rail access, too.

Blackman: That's correct. So the other thing these firms are looking at is hardening the perimeter. Both physically, by the use of things like fence line and walls and so forth, but also applying technology to detect if there's a violation of the perimeter, if somebody breaks through the perimeter when they shouldn't, if there's a growing threat to that perimeter.

Technologies that are being applied to these industrial sites are the use of fiber optic cable that would go along a fence line, vibration sensors, buried sensors, the use of microwave technology that can detect a violation of the perimeter, radar technology. . . . You're not only able to detect an intrusion to the perimeter, but by the use of radar, you're able to detect something that's approaching the perimeter.

Of course, a facility that handles chemicals also wants to be well aware of something that's going out through its perimeter. It wants to have chemical sensing technology there. Is that being integrated?

Blackman: Absolutely. As a matter of fact, Honeywell's made some acquisitions just in the last 18 months of some gas detecting sensor technology because we see this as a growing need in the industrial segment.

When you look at the gas sensing technology, you look at the perimeter intrusion technology, you look at access control and some other things we haven't talked about such as the use of video surveillance, then the question [comes from the] customers: How do I manage all this technology in a manner where I don't have to hire a huge staff, I don't have to have six or seven different types of systems that I'm monitoring? We've been able to integrate these different technologies and these different applications--gas sensing, video, access control, perimeter intrusion--into one system.

So the customer can really focus on a more exception basis: Instead of monitoring the status of the site, being able to integrate these technologies and apply some intelligence, through the use of software . . . so that all you're really monitoring are exceptions and threats to the status of the industrial site.

That's exactly what they're looking for.

Blackman: They want to be able to respond and focus their resources on those exceptions to how things should be running.

You say this is affordable; how costly is it?

Blackman: It's very scalable. We have a number of customers that will start out maybe investing a couple hundred thousand dollars in putting access controls around the perimeter of a site, doing some measure of camera surveillance at the main entrances to the site. You're only talking a couple hundred thousand dollars at that point.

You have other customers, perhaps their industrial site is near a very populated center. If there was an incident, it could affect the surrounding community, and they feel a greater need. They may be spending upwards of $3 [million] or $4 million to really harden the perimeter of that site so that, no matter where an intrusion may occur on the perimeter, they're making sure they have protection against that.

It's a combination of understanding what is the threat for a given site and then balancing that with the appropriate amount of investment.

We're talking generally about large and complex sites, as you've said. There are smaller facilities that also handle or create chemical mixtures. It could be scaled down to a smaller site at less cost?

Blackman: That's correct.

Do you recommend to clients, once they have such a system in place, that they test it periodically with drills or unannounced incursions?

Blackman: Yes. Having an effective approach to site security by the use of electronic security systems should really fall under the umbrella of an overall security program at a site. And that's what we're seeing with most of the customers we work with. What we're doing is just an element of a broader security policy implementation that includes very regular testing--on a daily, sometimes, definitely a weekly basis--checking to make sure the access control systems are working properly. Doing site inspections from a perimeter standpoint to ensure the perimeter system is setting off alarms as it should, and so forth.

As you can imagine, a lot of these technologies that we're deploying have been deployed in the military for a number of years, and you're talking mission-critical operations. So there's also imbedded in the technology itself a series of what we call supervisory technologies, so if there is a wire break or if a sensor goes bad, the system is telling the owner there's some maintenance that needs to be performed.

Are these systems tied into community responder agencies? Linked to a hazmat team at the fire department of your city, for example?

Blackman: Our direct experience has really been more [with] a chemical plant or an industrial site that has a waterside--it's part of a port or riverway. Under that scenario, you have maritime laws that are engaged, and the U.S. Coast Guard has jurisdiction. . . . When the hurricanes hit the Gulf Coast this past summer, one of the first places the Coast Guard showed up was at our Geismar site, to take a look at the systems--not only to see whether that site was still being protected, but because some of the technologies we deploy there basically provide a tool for the Coast Guard to look at that whole surrounding area.

Anywhere we have a customer that is part of a waterway, we're seeing the Coast Guard is very involved in our installation in terms of understanding how the system works and making us part of their whole communication network when it comes to their emergency response plans.

That speaks well for the technology you offer and for what's installed at the Geismar site. If I'm a facility owner and want a more robust system of this sort, what do I need to know? How do I get started?

Blackman: Obviously, we have offices all over the United States with local folks that have been trained and are familiar with these systems and with the legislation and what it's going to require. . . . Typically, we come in and do an initial site assessment, understanding what do they have in place today, what are their major risks and concerns, and make some recommendations for going forward.

Once the assessment's done, can these systems be quickly put into place?

Blackman: These systems can be deployed fairly quickly. One thing we try to do is utilize as much [as possible] of the existing infrastructure at a site. That helps keep the cost down. Also, we're very sensitive to the fact that these sites are factories, so we don't want to do anything that would interfere with the work processes on a daily basis.

Just to reiterate, I think the chemical industry . . . has been very proactive in responding to the threat. If you talk to some of the members of the American Chemistry Council, you'll find that a number of them have really invested millions.

This Q&A appeared in the June 2006 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

This article originally appeared in the June 2006 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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