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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

various areas first? A lot of firms are trying to figure that out now," he says. "Utilities need a way to qualify and quantify the threat level. If someone knows you shut down every time you get a phone call, then you may get a lot of phone calls," he points out.

Although utilities have always been careful about the ways entrance gates are controlled, many have become substantially more vigilant and demanding over the past six months. "We are now using owner-controlled area badges, so no one can get in without one, whereas they might have been able to get in before," notes Kathy McMullin, manager of communications for Entergy's Indian Point nuclear power plant.

One critic of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's oversight of employee-related security at nuclear power plants is Democratic Representative Edward Markey of Massachusetts, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. "The NRC does not know how many foreign nationals are employed at nuclear reactors, and does not require adequate background checks of nuclear reactor employees that would determine whether an employee was a member of a terrorist organization," he charges.

Nanogram Sensing in Demand

To help screen vehicles and individuals, chemical-sensing equipment is in strong demand now, and the perceived need is not only to screen for explosives but also for biological agents, says Brook Miller, the vice president of marketing at Barringer Instruments, in Warren, NJ. "The utility fleet of security equipment is old, in a broad sense, and there is a fair amount of replacement activity going on now," he says. "We're selling more equipment now than before 9/11," but the trend of new equipment acquisition started about six months before 9/11, he notes.

"The guys who are particularly nervous now are the nuclear operators, who are taking a very thorough and careful look at security arrangements," says Miller. "They're examining our chemical sensing equipment, x-ray machines, walk-through trace detection portals, perimeter systems, and monitoring systems," he says. Barringer's chemical sensing equipment routinely registers nanograms, or parts per billion, and in some cases parts in parts per trillion. Basic site operator-controlled equipment for sensing explosives is sold in the high $30,000 cost range, and utilities typically purchase several units, Miller says, noting that the company sold over 1,000 machines last year.

While such equipment is being used primarily at the gate, other analysts point to the possibility of the terrorist use of infrastructure like a cooling tower to disperse biological agents; thus multiple site sampling may become a necessity, even if only one machine is utilized. "We have remote monitoring capability and we spend more time on operator training now than ever before," Miller says.

Some security officials are considering such technology as biometrics-including fingerprint, hand, and iris scanners for failsafe identification. "The biometrics industry has hit a plateau but recent events may give it an upsurge," says Herbst. However, the cost of such equipment may exceed that of alternate responses to the perceived threat level that a utility is protecting against. "If you are not dealing with much of the public