Bottom Line Energy Issues - Homeland Security First

Nov. 9, 2001
November 2001

Continuing threats since the 9/11 attack have ramped up concerns for protecting all forms of public infrastructure, including water, telecom, transportation, and energy. While all are vulnerable, special attention is being given to gas pipelines, nuclear power plants, and dams. In spite of assigning national guard troops to protect such installations by some states, reports still indicate a frantic effort is needed to shore up our lagging knowledge of potential threats and to create effective defenses, if possible.

For example, only one experiment, in 1988 at the Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, NM, apparently was ever made to simulate the results of a fighter plane impacting a nuclear plant and that was never scientifically replicated with passenger aircraft. Larry Perrine, of Sandia, said, "To say nuclear vessels are safe as a result of this test would be misleading. You can't take one particular test of a relatively small airplane, crash it into a concrete slab and conclude that all nuclear containment reactors could withstand a crash from a [passenger] plane."

What this writer is most concerned about is the inability to patrol and defend the enormous miles of above ground infrastructure including gas and oil pipelines, and electric transmission lines. One deranged gunman closed the Alaska pipeline for three days with a single bullet and spilled countless barrels of precious oil. Of special obvious concern are local electric distribution sub-stations one sees all around town barely bounded by a flimsy security fence or wall and left totally unguarded.

All privately owned energy companies are responsible for their own security plans. While state and local officials can make recommendations they don't have authority to order company expenses for securing facilities. Many state and local government organizations are seemingly stunned into inaction. Elia Germani, chair of the PUC of Rhode Island said, "Frankly, I'm looking for some guidance to come from the state or Homeland Security Director. We're still in the information gathering stage."

One can only wonder if the consuming public is willing yet to accept the enormous cost and shift in priorities it will take to even partially protect these facilities from attacks that could disable large segments of our economy and add immensely to the anxiety and fear already threatening the nation's future. In my experience, people won't change until it hurts too much not to. One can only hope that our tolerance for pain is low enough to support the crash effort of security research and development that is needed. Perhaps we also need to learn a new social psychology of living with a higher level of risk than ever before. Godspeed to Gov. Tom Ridge and all those involved in Homeland Security.

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