Some chemical plants get it, many others do not; plant safety legislation will change that

Published 30 March 2006

Ronald Reagan used to say: “If you cannot make them see the light, make them feel the heat”; some chemical plants have taken plant security seriously, and Geismar, Louisiana-based Honeywell is one of them; trouble is, most of the 15,000 U.S. plants have not followed Honeywell’s example; the threat of federal legislation may concentrate their minds

Since 9/11, some 120 American Chemistry Council (ACC) members have invested more than $2 billion upgrading security at their plants. The ACC has made a comprehensive security plan and an approved security system is part of the requirement for ACC membership. Example: At the Honeywell plant near Geismar, Louisiana, more than $3 million was invested in security, helped by a $1 million TSA Waterways grant, plus another $400,000 security grant received by one the companies co-located at the facility with Honeywell. More than fifty cameras went up. An extensive perimeter security system was developed. Radar was used to spot water-based threats on the Mississippi River. A robust access control system was put in place, and tied in with cameras, personnel management, and the visitor system. Security was integrated directly into the processes systems — the systems that the chemists and engineers use to control the reactions at the plant. Not only were there lots of eyes watching, but, now, the chemists watching the chemicals weren’t separated from the security staff watching for threats.

Trouble is, Honeywell’s concern for plant security — which is, in effect, the security of the people who live near the plant — represents the minority position among the more than 15,000 U.S. chemical plants. This is why legislation in Congress to regulate safety chemical plant standards finally appears to be moving forward. Honeywell’s government affairs representative Chris Spear, says: “I think a lot of plants [which currently ignore safety standards] are going to read the tea leaves.” He believes that the promise of coming legislation may force many plants to step up security in advance. “If anything happens to these assets, it’s obviously bad for the company and the bottom line, but more importantly it’s a risk to the people who work there as well as those who live near the facility. And that’s the paramount concern here. Nobody wants to see anything bad happen to these facilities for that reason alone.”