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News Analysis

State public service commissions are insisting that utilities adopt risk management programs, and are allowing less pass-through for those that don't.
Fortnightly Magazine - June 15 2002

requirement for vehicle barriers and armed responders at non-working reactors, aiming at the enhanced protection of stored fuel. Three Mile Island-1, for example, has "increased hardened vehicle barriers, increased security posts, and increased patrols," says Ralph DeSantis, communications manager for AmerGen Energy, the joint venture between Exelon and British Energy, in Middletown, Pa. "We've been in a state of heightened security since 9/11, and are in close contact with law enforcement and Homeland Security," he adds.

Similarly, Pacific Gas & Electric has upgraded barriers at a number of sites, says Jon Tremayne, a spokesman for the utility in San Francisco. PG&E may be particularly sensitive to the issue of access, having suffered a transformer substation outage in 1997-that involved unstated actions by an employee- affecting over 125,000 customers.

Among other utilities that have stepped up security over the past six months is Florida Power & Light, which, through its parent company, has conducted an engineering analysis of the St. Lucie and Turkey Point nuclear power plant facilities. Their study indicated that the facilities could withstand jet aircraft impacts, according to Bill Swank, a spokesperson for the utility. Apart from these measures, "I can confirm that we do have enhanced security, but we don't want to go into any of the things we've done," he says.

To keep would-be intruders from gaining entrance to electric utility sites "people are looking into more surveillance cameras and guards," says Alan Herbst, a principal at Utilis Energy, the New York-based energy sector consultants. "The utilities want some security display so any potential saboteur or terrorist would move on to another target. For the terrorists, the softer the target the better."

Employee Background Checks More Detailed

FPL also conducted background checks on all 800 employees at its plants with the help of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, Swank says. More detailed employee background checks are becoming more common and crucial, not only for U.S. citizens, but also for foreign nationals, about whom such information is not often readily available. The problem of background checks arises more often for temporary workers and subcontractors' crews, which necessitate an ability to do rapid assessments.

"Human resources background checking sounds a bit like Big Brother, but if the employees have access to sensitive areas, you have to look at their background for employment and gaps," says Herbst. "Perhaps there should be some government involvement to check against their information and make sure no U.S. government agency has them on a list," he adds. The FBI's relationship with Interpol, for example, helps facilitate rapid checks on foreign nationals.

As security concerns continue to spread beyond the security department to areas like HR, they eventually will touch all aspects of operations. "Utility public affairs people are worried about limiting liability concerns associated with security breaches," says Herbst. Security events will increasingly mean coordinated efforts by multiple departments in utilities. "Most HR people don't think about how you deal with bomb threats," for example, says Herbst. "Do you evacuate a building each time you get a threat, or weigh that action against checking