Canadian Consulting Engineer

Security: On Guard

Planning for an emergency or a disaster at a water facility may seem a formidable task because it means planning for the unpredictable. But the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and the tragedy ...

May 1, 2003   By Rosemary Todd, AMEC

Planning for an emergency or a disaster at a water facility may seem a formidable task because it means planning for the unpredictable. But the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and the tragedy of Canada’s most serious case of contaminated water in Walkerton, Ontario, have jolted North Americans into thinking about the vulnerability of such systems and how necessary it is to protect them against terrorist attacks, sabotage and contamination.

“Water is an extremely fragile necessity that can be easily contaminated,” says Bill Edwards, P.Eng. Edwards is director of homeland security services and technical director of water resources for AMEC, the international engineering services firm that has its North American headquarters in Toronto.

“Water utilities today are faced with increasing pressure from both the public and government agencies to ensure the security of their operations and the quality of the water they are providing,” says Edwards. “And while planning for an emergency may seem daunting, it is possible to assess the vulnerability of a water treatment operation or system and plan accordingly for the most probable risks.”

In the United States, the federal government’s response to securing homeland infrastructure was swift. Last June, the U.S. Congress passed the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act, including a statute on drinking water security and safety.

Community water authorities were given strict deadlines to assess the vulnerability of their systems to a terrorist attack or other intentionally disruptive act. Those serving a population base of 100,000 or more were to have completed their assessments by March 31, 2003. Those serving 50,000-100,000 people must complete them by December 31, 2003, and those serving 3,300-50,000 people by June 2004.

Immediate response

Following the terrorist attacks, AMEC responded to client needs by offering “homeland security services.” These services combine engineering and construction, construction management and earth and environmental services resources. The team’s expertise includes water security engineers, security analysts, water facility engineers, emergency response planners and SCADA and IT scientists. They work closely with private industry and government officials in an effort to understand and identify the security issues facing water providers and other clients.

AMEC’s post-September 11 projects in the U.S. have included the emergency recovery and clean-up operations at the World Trade Center, emergency reconstruction and enhanced building security at the Pentagon, development of a disaster-response network for a railroad, an emergency-response plan for a major software company, and drinking water security assessments for several municipalities.

“Our fundamental approach to these projects is the new understanding that a terrorist threat potentially involves not only the conventional threat of explosives, but also chemical, biological and radiological or other ‘creative’ threats that combine with others in new ways or that do not directly involve hazardous materials,” says Edwards. “For example, pre-weakening a structure or sabotaging a system by physical or electronic means can cause an incident without the direct use of a hazardous material or weapon.”

Edwards, a 30-year veteran engineer, is certified in the Sandia National Laboratories Risk Assessment Methodology for Water Systems known as “RAM-W.” Sandia, which is the U.S. Department of Energy’s security research laboratory, developed the RAM-W process and certification in conjunction with the American Water Works Association for the Environmental Protection Agency. It did so at the request of the Office of Homeland Security immediately following September 11.

Because of strict security issues, the majority of AMEC’s homeland security projects cannot be identified or discussed. However, one project the company was recently awarded is a contract to help assess the vulnerability to terrorism of a water supply system that serves two Georgia counties and parts of three others. Under a contract with Cobb County-Marietta Water Authority, AMEC will evaluate potential risks to the water system and recommend security upgrades or policy changes and develop an emergency response plan. Key features of the plan may range from developing a flowchart of responsibilities during emergencies, to identifying alternate sources of water for drinking, sanitation and fire fighting. “All aspects of the water system will be assessed, including raw water sources, pumping, treatment, finished water transmission, and pumping and storage,” says Edwards.

Assessment process

A vulnerability assessment (VA) involves determining the most probable hazards that a water authority may encounter. Once those are known, it is possible to identify the system or operational components most at risk.

Many water authorities wholesale water to multiple city and county jurisdictions. Their facilities generally include raw water intakes and pumping stations, raw water transmission mains, raw water reservoirs, several water production facilities with on-site clearwells and high service pump stations, transmission mains with associated valving, water storage tanks and booster stations. AMEC professionals review all these components in preparing vulnerability assessment reports. And they prepare an emergency response plan, which incorporates the results of the vulnerability assessment report.

Vulnerability assessments include a step-by-step process that:

Determines the water system — including identifying the mission and functions of the system, undesirable consequences that could affect the mission and functions, and the assets that need to be protected to minimize the impact on the missions and functions. Obtaining complete and accurate information in the early stages is critical to the project.

Defines how malevolent acts might be conducted. Considered are: physical damage, chemical, biological and radiological contamination, cyber attacks or internal misuse of process control systems, chemical theft.

Prioritizes the adverse events and consequences affecting the water system and surrounding community.

Assesses the likelihood of such malevolent acts from defined threat sources, such as terrorist, insiders, vandals, etc. Includes considering proximity of the water facilities to other potential targets such as government agencies, hazardous material industrial plants or politically sensitive facilities, and locations of mass gatherings.

Completes a “performance-based” analysis of existing security against the specific malevolent acts.

Determines the most critical assets or targets — and evaluates the effectiveness of the existing security protections.

Prepares a final vulnerability assessment that includes a prioritized plan for security upgrades, modifications and policy changes to mitigate the identified risks to critical assets.

“The review may also include the basis for comparing the cost of protection against the potential risks, and will recommend strategies and improvements that focus on producing a cost-effective, balanced security enhancement protection system,” says Edwards. He explains that recommendations may include an impact analysis on both health and business, and options for mitigation strategies. As well, the review may determine requirements for organizational structures and personnel, such as hiring and releasing procedures, leader development and training, and inter-agency coordination. It could include procedures for managing and monitoring the facilities’ security system and may detail the potential impacts on other non-water system critical infrastructure.

Emergency Response Planning (ERP) involves coordinating the people responsible for operating a water system as well as the appropriate government agencies regulating water providers.

“ERPs need to be concise, use existing resources and be implemented to ensure that, in the event of an emergency, all bases are covered,” says Edwards.

Features of the emergency re
sponse plan include: system identification, utilities administration organization, administrative chain of command flow chart, chain of command responsibilities during emergencies, classification of the emergency or disaster, plan execution, procedures to be used, notification procedures, notifications list, system components, prioritized work and repairs needed, dispatching personnel and equipment, public notification, recovery checklist, alternate water sources, boil orders, water conservation, plan maintenance and approvals.

On the Canadian side

In Canada, recent heightened government measures to protect our water resources have sprung more from concerns about contamination than from the threat of terrorism. Following Canada’s most serious case of water contamination in Walkerton, Ontario on May 2000 from E. coli bacteria, which killed seven people and sickened 2,300 others, the Ontario government called on AMEC to help develop a training program that inspectors are required to take to ensure that treatment facilities comply with regulations.

Ontario’s Environment Ministry directed municipal water supply operators to complete comprehensive engineering compliance reports for their facilities, including requiring hydrogeology reports where the source is groundwater. With the announcement in November 2001 of $10 million in additional funding for municipal groundwater studies, several Ontario regions have retained AMEC and other consulting engineers to undertake groundwater source protection studies.

“Effective protection of drinking water starts at the source,” said Dr. Peter Duckworth, P. Geo. and principal consultant with AMEC. “The primary goal is to establish important information on groundwater resources at a local and regional level and the associated potential risks to those resources. These studies help map sensitive groundwater areas, identify potential risks, inventory contaminants and survey how water is used and how aquifers recharge. This information will help municipalities and regions develop and implement source protection strategies.”

Last year, AMEC was retained by the Region of Peel, located just west of Toronto, to design and co-ordinate the installation of a series of early warning monitoring wells. AMEC will also develop a region-wide monitoring program to track groundwater quality over time.

“AMEC is also carrying out a comprehensive land use and chemical occurrence inventory for the Region of Peel,” explains Peter Rider, AMEC senior hydrogeologist and lead consultant. “This major study examines all potential sources of contamination throughout the region and the vast inventory database will allow Peel authorities to identify any potential chemical of concern that may be in a given area. The neighbouring regions of York and Durham will also have access to environmental information through this database.” The project involves developing a series of best management practices to mitigate pollution, spills and releases to the environment.

“Ensuring our drinking water is safe means ensuring the entire system — from ground water to distribution — is not vulnerable to intentional or unintentional threats,” says Rider. “Critical to that is understanding what those potential threats are, understanding the potential impact of those threats and being able to prevent or minimize their impact.”

Rosemary Todd is manager of communications for AMEC Americas and is based in Toronto.


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