CFATS: Implementation Issues Come Into Focus

Companies face issues in striving to meet new mandate.

By Seán Ottewell, Editor at Large

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As more and more chemical companies move through the various review and evaluation processes demanded by the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), important issues about the practical implications and the cost of the initiative are emerging.

Personal surety programs (PSP), and top screens and materials modifications pose particular concern to the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA), Washington, D.C.

In terms of PSP, under CFATS companies must carry out appropriate background checks, to ascertain immigration status and criminal history, and to ensure via the FBI's terrorists' screening database that an individual has no terrorist ties.

This will lead to duplication of existing screening programs, says Michael Kennedy, SOCMA senior manager, government relations. In the preamble to the original CFATS final rule, DHS indicated that a person who has successfully undergone a security threat assessment conducted by DHS and possesses a valid DHS credential such as a TWIC, HME, NEXUS or FAST "will not need to undergo additional vetting by DHS." However, he points out, DHS now states that an affected individual who possesses a current and valid TWIC "will likely require less information' to be submitted than an affected individual who does not have a TWIC."

"So these simple criteria have mushroomed into something bigger — it gets quite complicated quite quickly. Now there is a lot of ambiguity about what is an affected individual. For example, does this include contractors? Does having camera coverage of an individual count as unescorted? What if there is a guy at the back of the plant coming to collect a bag of ammonium nitrate. Does he count?"

The DHS gives facilities some discretion to interpret all this, but SOCMA is pushing for more guidance for the simple reason that a DHS inspector might disagree with a particular company's interpretation.

With regard to material modifications, the DHS requires covered facilities to submit a revised Top Screen within 60 days of any "material modification made to its operations or site." This means adding or removing a chemical of interest (COI), reducing its volume and, sometimes, simply moving where it's kept.

"One of our members queried the DHS whether or not they had to file a Top Screen for moving a COI from one part of the site to another. They got varying interpretations from the DHS. But the company filed one anyway," says Kennedy.

The DHS already must contend with a sizable volume of Top Screens because many companies want to get out of the CFATS program altogether. This can happen two ways: the DHS, after its initial review and evaluation of Top Screen data, deems a facility not high risk; or the DHS, after issuing a facility a preliminary CFATS tier ranking and then getting a Security Vulnerability Assessment (SVA), determines the facility isn't high risk.

"Even if following a DHS review and evaluation of SVA data, the facility is deemed not high risk and allowed to drop out of CFATS, the DHS is still looking for documentation, especially on the supply chain. They want to know where the chemical goes to next if it is not on your site. This brings in added problems for batch manufacturers, where COIs go up and down monthly depending on what is being manufactured at the time," Kennedy notes.

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