A dangerous visit

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Sometimes when traveling, I try to touch base with engineers in the area to get a sense of what they'd like to see in Chemical Processing. It's not that hard to identify engineers at many plants, even if you don't know anyone on the site. For instance, membership directories of professional societies, conference rosters, mailing lists and "Googling" can provide names. Of course, it takes persuasiveness and, sometimes, persistence to arrange such get-togethers. Some might also say it requires a bit of brazen-ness or "chutzpah." Nonetheless, I've generally found that many engineers are pleased that an editor genuinely wants their opinions. So, when I called Jenny Blandings, a process engineer at Carefree Chemicals, it wasn't too hard to convince her to allow me visit her at the plant.

Arriving at the plant, the procedure was the same as at many other plants I've visited. I told the guard at the security gate who I was seeing. After confirming this, he directed me to park in one of the visitors' spots about 100 yards away and then to go into the reception area of the administration building nearby. There, I signed in and was given a visitor's badge. Jenny then came to get me and escorted me into the plant to her office.

The meeting lasted almost an hour and a half and was very worthwhile. Yet, as I left, I was troubled because of the lackluster security on the site. What if someone simply had misrepresented himself as me? Look how easily he could have gotten onto the plant site. Once past the security gate, the person could have driven elsewhere on the site, in an uninspected car, likely without too much difficulty. And, since Carefree's complex, like many chemical sites, was sprawling, with loads of outdoor units, he could have caused all sorts of mischief.

Likewise, once Jenny had used her magnetic security card to take "me" into the main part of the building, who knows where the person could go and what damage he could cause under the guise of a bathroom break or by convincing Jenny to let him see himself out.

Don't worry, however, about Carefree Chemicals and Jenny Blandings. They are pseudonyms. I've disguised the specifics -- but not the underlying vulnerabilities.

Does your plant adequately restrict visitors' access? What about other non-employees? For instance, how well are contract workers scrutinized? Intruders are not some idle threat, as pointed out in our cover story.

What other plant vulnerabilities do you worry about?

The chemical industry needs broad-based and frank dialogue if we are to identify and address security issues. Chemical Processing aims to play a proactive role.

By Mark Rosenzweig, Editor in Chief

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