Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

June 19, 2012

Consequence Management for Critical Infrastructure Using an Environmental Threat Model

Filed under: Infrastructure Protection — by Christopher Bellavita on June 19, 2012

Today’s guest writer is Steve Kral, the Homeland Security Government Relations Officer for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA)

The usual caveats apply: Steve’s opinions are his own. Please do not assume they reflect the views of WMATA or any other agency.


An enduring problem facing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is the lack of a universally accepted and transparent scientific model for determining priorities among critical infrastructure vulnerabilities. DHS may want to review history and examine the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) prioritization model used to rank the relative threat of actual and potential release(s) of hazardous substances from a site. EPA’s evaluation criteria, based upon relative risk or danger to public health or welfare of the environment, may afford insight into developing an acceptable critical infrastructure prioritization model. Such a model may also be beneficial in responding to Congress’ concerns about homeland security expenditures.

The lack of environmental oversight and enforcement regulations, led to the creation of thousands of hazardous waste sites throughout the United States prior to the 1970s. On December 11, 1980 the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), commonly known as Superfund, was enacted by Congress in response to the numerous threats of hazardous waste sites in the United States, typified by the Love Canal in New York, and the Valley of the Drums in Kentucky.

Section 105(8)(A) of CERCLA required EPA to establish criteria for determining priorities among releases or threatened releases (of hazardous substances) throughout the United States for the purpose of taking remedial action and, to the extent practical, taking into account the potential urgency of such action.

To meet this requirement and help set priorities, EPA adopted the Hazard Ranking System (HRS), a scoring system used to assess the relative threat associated with the actual and potential releases of hazardous substances from a site. The HRS was designed to be applied uniformly to each site, enabling sites to be evaluated relative to each other with respect to actual or potential hazards. As EPA explained when it adopted the system, “the HRS is a means for applying uniform technical judgment regarding the potential hazards presented by a facility relative to other facilities.”

Could DHS take advantage of the successes of the HRS and build an acceptable model for evaluating critical infrastructure? I think the answer is yes.

The likelihood of a hazardous substance being released, the quantity of a substance, and the population effected are all examples of known scientific factors the HRS scoring system uses to calculate the threat. Unlike hazardous substances, the threat of a terrorist attack is extremely dynamic and ever changing. DHS may be focused on liquids on planes today, and tomorrow it could be a vehicle improvised explosive device somewhere. Factors for calculating threat are often unknown and based on intelligence, not science. Where EPA assesses the “threat” associated with hazardous substances of a site based on scientific factors, homeland security professionals may want to evaluate the consequences a critical infrastructure facility poses to an urban area or state if the facility were to be lost or compromised.

The success of the HRS lies not only with the scientific analysis used to determine the known or potential threat a site poses to human health and the environment, but also with the transparency associated with the evaluation of a site. All sites evaluated using the HRS are listed within the Federal Register and open for public comment, allowing the general public access to all data used to score the site.

DHS may want to consider a similar transparent process with the evaluation of critical infrastructure facilities.

David J. Kaufman and Robert Bach discussed the concept of transparency in their paper, A Social Infrastructure for Hometown Security: Advancing the Homeland Security Paradigm. They reflect on how the United Kingdom conducts and share a risk assessment annually, combining national, regional, and local results. It publishes a National Risk Register designed to encourage public debate on security and help organizations, individuals, families, and communities, who want to do so, to prepare for emergencies.

A similar transparent process for assessing critical infrastructure facilities may allow DHS to gain the public’s confidence with the evaluation and prioritization of sites within the United States. The public would become more aware of the critical infrastructure within their communities and may be more willing to contact law enforcement if they see anything suspicious.

Some people might argue that DHS is currently performing such evaluations. Unfortunately, DHS requests individuals at the state to prioritize their own critical infrastructure, using broad categories. The logic behind such categories has never been fully explained. DHS may want to establish oversight and enforcement regulations based on a consequence management formula focused on protecting the citizens of the United States rather than trying to calculate the risk of a terrorist attack occurring.

An article entitled, Changing Homeland Security: In 2010, was Homeland Security Useful? asserts, “If homeland security is to become a useful academic and professional discipline, it has to demonstrate how looking at enduring problems through a homeland security framework adds significant value not provided by other disciplines.”

Developing a scientifically acceptable model for prioritizing critical infrastructure by evaluating the consequences associated with such sites may help homeland security become more useful as an academic and professional discipline. A sound model could be used within the urban planning discipline in developing more resilient communities, or the insurance industry in determining insurance rates for critical infrastructure facilities.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

June 19, 2012 @ 3:57 am

Good idea but tough to do! Is Washington DC in its entirety Critical Infrastructure [say inside the beltway]? And I now estimate the transportation dependent inside the beltway at 30% meaning those without cars or without access to cars for evacuation.

But perhaps does not matter since the beltway widening makes for nice free fire zone so that peasants storming the Bastille with their pitchforks will be no problems. Probably a greater threat than zombies for DHS to worry about.

When will the long hot summer of 2012 begin?

Comment by William R. Cumming

June 19, 2012 @ 4:04 am

Did I mention dispersal [say the Pentagon to Ft. Riley instead of Mark Center] as a protective action.

Did I mention that DHS HQ at St. E’s will never be. Probably just Coast Guard and FEMA. DHS leaders like the Nebraska Ave. and Mass Ave. site for HQ. Perhaps AU could just sell the whole campus and move to the Naval Research Lab on upper Potomac.

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