Expert: Refinery, Petchem Plant Security Getting Better, More Affordable

Expert: Refinery, Petchem Plant Security Getting Better, More Affordable
More advanced, more affordable security measures are benefitting operators large and small, says consultant.

Oil refineries and petrochemical plants are prominent industrial facilities that manufacture products important both from economic and national security perspectives. Given the numerous hazards present at these facilities, plant personnel take myriad steps to ensure that operations meet or exceed widely accepted standards for safety and environmental stewardship.

Cognizant that their facilities are also attractive targets for activists, vandals, terrorists and others seeking to advance some agenda, refiners and petrochemical manufacturers make security a top concern. The technologies and other tools available to enhance security at refineries, petrochemical plants and other industrial facilities are continually improving and are becoming more cost-effective, a Houston-based security consultant told DownstreamToday during a recent interview. Read on for insights from David Cribbs, security director with TechKnowledge Consulting Corp.

DownstreamToday: What do you see as some of the key trends in security at industrial facilities such as refineries and petrochemical plants?

David Cribbs: Good security practices utilize a layered security approach, or "concentric rings" of security, and we see this focus reflected in government regulations such as the Maritime Transportation Security Act (MTSA) and Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS). This philosophy has caused refineries, petrochemical plants and other industrial facilities to push their protection programs to (and beyond) their perimeters. We see increasing use of perimeter intrusion detection countermeasures, such as fiber optic sensing, microwave deployments, license plate recognition and video monitoring. Of particular promise are the advantages of thermal cameras combined with advanced analytics to monitor activity at fence lines, rail yards and clear zones. As technology becomes more advanced and more affordable, many smaller operations are finding these measures within their budgetary reach.

The 7 Signs of Terrorism

1. Surveillance: Recording activities with still or video cameras, taking notes, drawing diagrams, monitoring a facility with binoculars, etc.

2. Elicitation: Trying to obtain information about a facility by mail, email, fax, telephone or in person. Queries may focus on topics such as plant operations, delivery schedules, etc.

3. Tests of security: Gauging security strengths and weaknesses by measuring reaction times to security breaches. Examples may include walking or driving into or parking within restricted areas to see how quickly security or law enforcement personnel respond.

4. Acquiring supplies: Buying or stealing identification badges, explosives, weapons, ammunition, law enforcement or military uniforms, etc.

5. Suspicious persons out of place: Observing people who seem to stand out at the facility by behaving suspiciously, asking unusual questions or making odd statements.

6. Dry run/Trial run: Putting people into position and moving them around according to plan without actually executing the attack.

7. Deploying assets: Positioning people, equipment and supplies at or near the target to commit the act of terrorism. This phase marks the final opportunity to alert authorities.

SOURCES: Mississippi Office of Homeland Security; Eastern Michigan University Center for Regional and National Security

It is also exciting to watch the evolution of threat monitoring as it expands beyond the physical perimeter of the plant or office building. We are seeing the increasing use of Physical Security Information Management (PSIM) systems and similar solutions designed to pull external data sources into security command centers and right to the desktop of the security manager. This technology allows an organization to monitor real-time events that may impact operations, including supply route interruptions, criminal activities, Internet "chatter", and security threats across the globe.

DownstreamToday: What are some of the major types of threats to these facilities, and how have threats to these complexes changed in recent decades – particularly post-9/11)?

Cribbs: Threats to industrial facilities have not changed much in the last decade, but terrorism, security breaches and industrial accidents garner media attention and highlight the dangerous nature of the inventory and processes at these sites. As such, assets protection departments often see increased funding to address traditional threats such as unauthorized access, theft, vandalism and sabotage. Increasingly, however, we see more focus on terrorism, workplace violence, emergency preparedness and even random gunfire. Protection specialists must also consider premises liability and how to protect the organization’s interests with access controls, video preserved as evidence, planning and interdiction, and other methods. Finally, we are beginning to see security systems utilized for operational purposes, such as access control used for time clocking, and intrusion detection systems used to monitor environmental and operational sensors. This trend increases return on investment for these systems while reducing opportunities for policy violations, misconduct, criminal behavior, hazardous conditions and accidents.

DownstreamToday: How have operating companies, contractors, emergency responders and others had to modify their policies and procedures to better prepare for terrorist attacks and other catastrophic events?

Cribbs: From an end user perspective, opportunities to improve technology and procedure have become abundant in recent years. Not only have security technologies improved dramatically, they are also far more affordable. For instance, there has been a dramatic increase in the utilization of mass notification systems, some of which are inexpensive hosted systems that are paid only when used. With workplace violence on the rise, mass notification is essential to facilitate evacuations, disseminate information to employees and improve workplace safety. A well designed solution will simultaneously send text messages, overhead paging announcements and emails; some of the better solutions will also seize the display on desktop telephones and audio/visual displays in conference rooms.

We have also evolved our response to workplace violence. Gone are the days of ignoring the potential for an active shooter in our facilities, or simply telling our employees – and worse, our kids – to just barricade themselves in a room and hide. Law enforcement now promotes the "Run-Hide-Fight" methodology, and protection professionals are providing this guidance to employees through training and procedure. A video explaining this philosophy was developed by the City of Houston, and can be viewed at

There is little doubt that ever-changing technologies, threats and government oversight will keep the protection industry on its toes for years to come.

DownstreamToday: How can onsite personnel help to improve security at a refinery, petrochemical plant or other industrial facility?

Cribbs: When considering what employees can do to improve security at any operation, our first reaction is to focus on things like complying with security procedures, being aware of their surroundings and reporting incidents. While these are truly important, we often see that employees are not equipped to easily do these things, even though they may be supportive of the security effort. We must give employees the tools they need to be security-conscious, such as well-publicized phone numbers (answered 24 hours) for reporting incidents, instructions about how to identify suspicious activity, well written and accessible security procedures and policies, access controls that balance protection needs and traffic flow and camera placement that does not unnecessarily invade privacy.

Once so-equipped, management must provide constant encouragement to participate in the security of a facility or plant, and should be encouraged to take "ownership". For example, employees should be encouraged to challenge unbadged individuals, report malfunctioning security equipment, report any activity that seems to be out of the norm, and much more. Much like safety, security must become ingrained in the culture of the workforce to be truly effective.

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More advanced, more affordable security measures are benefitting operators large and small, says consultant.