NIGHTMARE on Main Street
Massive chemical-plant accidents and intentional sabotage against critical infrastructure are constant threats to the American way of life, with the potential to kill thousands. But government only recently has forced industry to adopt wireless security technologies to help prevent such horrors.
Rogue forces haven’t attacked the United States on its own turf for six years now, but that doesn’t mean the nation’s critical infrastructure is secure. Human error alone can result in massive chemical explosions at manufacturing facilities. In addition, entry ports, drinking-water facilities and power plants are easy targets for determined terrorists.
Yet only in the last few years have government officials written reports, passed mandates and instructed industry to implement wireless-security technologies designed to prevent such accidents or lessen the threat of intentional sabotage. For instance, in May 2007 the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released its 17 sector-specific plans in support of the National Infrastructure Protection Plan that was developed post-9/11. The plans identify myriad industries tied to the nation’s critical infrastructure sectors that must take protective actions, including the adoption of technologies to prepare for, or mitigate, terrorist attacks or other hazards.
The chemical industry tops the list. According to an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report, 15,000 industrial facilities based in the United States store or use hazardous chemicals that pose a risk of death or injury to the surrounding population if released. The 9/11 Commission concurred in its much-discussed report, which included an FBI alert that al-Qaida was interested in chemical plants for precisely this reason. Specifically, investigators pointed to a Tennessee chemical plant that, if attacked, could jeopardize 60,000 people. Other chemical plants could release enough toxins to imperil more than 1 million U.S. citizens. (See chart on page 41.)
In fact, chemical accidents already have caused widespread havoc, said Andy Igrejas, a director at the National Environmental Trust. He points to the July 2007 disaster at Texas-based Southwest Industrial Gases, where exploding acetylene gas cylinders sent projectiles up to a quarter-mile away.
But even more tragic was the world’s worst industrial disaster. On Dec. 3, 1984, in Bhopal, India, a Union Carbide subsidiary’s pesticide plant released 40 tons of methyl isocyanate gas. Exposure resulted in pulmonary or lung edema, emphysema, bronchial pneumonia, hemorrhages, and death. The release killed 3000 people instantly and ultimately caused 15,000 to 22,000 total deaths, according to reports.
“Tens of thousands more have had health effects,” Igrejas said about the incident. “Their lives were shortened or children were born with birth defects.”
To prevent such an event in the United States, chemical facilities now are required to install wired and wireless security technologies to comply with a DHS ruling in April that imposed federal-security regulations on high-risk chemical facilities. According to the ruling, owners of facilities that hold certain quantities of chemicals must undergo a threat assessment by DHS.
In addition, security standards must be met, including the deployment of technology designed to secure perimeters, control access, deter theft of dangerous chemicals and prevent internal sabotage. Chemical-plant facilities that fail to adhere to the mandate face a $25,000-per-day fine or the prospect of being shut down for non-compliance.
Ian McPherson, vice president of network architecture for wireless-systems integrator Apprion, said his chemical-plant clients are most concerned about the potential for a premeditated terrorist attack at a plant surrounded by a high-density population. The move by DHS to impose the aforementioned rules on industry will help operators determine what technologies to buy for security and business efficiencies, he said.
Indeed, chemical plants should use the ruling as incentive to invest in wireless technologies that improve physical security for intrusion detection, personnel tracking, asset tracking, access control and cyber-security, according to McPherson. Asset tracking is particularly helpful to trace toxic chemicals as they move through the supply chain, he said.
“Let’s take chlorine plants, so you’ve got very toxic chemicals” McPherson said. “They may be in rail cars and in tanks, but you may not know where they are at all times.”
Several vendors offer wireless technologies to monitor chemical plants and their inventory, including Honeywell International. The company has seen an upswing in U.S. business due to the recent mandates, said Bhaskar Ganguly, the company’s director of security solutions.
He added that Honeywell works with companies to analyze risk and determine which technologies best suit their needs. This includes planning systems that consist of sensor technologies that collect and wirelessly transmit asset-tracking and security data to a chemical plant’s command-and-control center.
Data gathered by sensors installed throughout chemical facilities are transferred over a GSM network or ultra-wideband frequencies, Ganguly said. If a sensor is tripped, alarms can be preconfigured and sent to command-and-control centers, as well as to handheld devices, including personal digital assistants (PDAs) and walkie-talkies.
However, Ganguly noted that technology is only a means to an end. He said the most important aspect of protecting critical infrastructure is the analysis of the generated data, which helps security experts devise plans to guard high-risk targets from terrorist attack and protect the public from the resulting disastrous spills or airborne releases of caustic materials.
Securing ports of commerce
Every day, more than 20,000 shipping containers from all over the world are unloaded in the United States, according to a report from RAND Corp., a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. To protect the country from possible Trojan horses hidden in cargo, the DHS announced in May a $202 million Port Security Grant Program for the development of technology to secure port infrastructure from terrorism.
SeaAway in Titusville, Fla., currently works closely with the federal government on port-protection systems. The company offers a patent-pending, prior-to-port security solution known as the Sea Sentinel System. The $100-million system includes the Sea Sentinel Unit, a fully staffed, 100-foot-wide semi-submersible platform that sits 11½ miles from shore and offers UHF, VHF, satellite and cellular communication technologies, said Steve Kroecker, the company’s chairman and system designer.
The idea is to deploy the platforms in pairs outside the world’s major ports. Ships exiting and entering ports would be required to pass between the platforms through what Kroecker calls a data-acquisition gateway. The vessel’s manifest then would be checked against goods secured in shipping containers. The data would be compared again when vessels pass through another set of Sea Sentinels at their ports of delivery.
A device called a command box takes information from the containers as the cargo ship approaches the Sentinels — a process that can begin as far as 17 miles away from the platform, creating a useful buffer zone. Signals transmitted by RFID tags attached to the shipping containers are collected by a series of antenna arrays and directional antennas installed on the platform. The data are examined for container tampering, and the information then is transferred wirelessly to an onboard command-and-control center.
“It works because it’s on both sides of the pond,” Kroecker said. “You’ve got to have a closed-in loop for a security system to operate. So a vessel is loaded in Dubai and it goes through the Sentinel, is checked for validity and checked again when it reaches its destination port, let’s say New York harbor.”
At the command-and-control center, an automated system looks at the vessel’s manifest and funnels unusual information picked up by the wireless systems to U.S. Customs, DHS or Coast Guard officials. The system employs a data-visualization language where pictures and colors are used to identify specific threats. It takes everyday marine traffic data and “washes it away,” Kroecker said. “We’re only looking at abnormal … information, and that’s what comes up visually.”
The buffer zone gives a government agency time to examine potential threats and take steps to mitigate those determined to be real prior to containers docking at a U.S. port, Kroecker said. The data can be transmitted to a predetermined list of port officials in near real-time, appearing as a pop-up alarm on a laptop or a PDA.
In addition to an array of sensors capable of detecting the presence of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive devices, the system is equipped with unmanned surveillance drones, including underwater submersibles and aerial vehicles. The drones are used to capture video of a vessel and wirelessly transmit images back to the command center. A solar-powered, advanced deep-water buoy anchored 275 miles from shore also offers radar, sonar, seismic and weather sensor arrays to support maritime communications. For instance, satellites capture and transmit data to provide real-time situational awareness to the Coast Guard and the Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration, Kroecker said.
A bonus is that all of the systems are powered through an environmentally friendly desalination process, which creates energy by removing salts from water. “It is powered by the byproduct of the desalination process, which is hydrogen, and that drives [the system’s] generators,” Kroecker said.
The company is working with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory of Richland, Wash., to develop an advanced chip that indicates when it detects a specific radioactive signature.
“Bananas give off a potassium signature, and that’s radioactive,” Kroecker said. “What we’re looking for is enriched plutonium and uranium, and that’s what the laboratory is developing.”
Keeping drinking water safe
Protecting the U.S. water system is no easy task. With large networks of storage tanks, valves and pipes transporting clean water to customers over vast areas, these systems provide multiple points for potential contamination — either accidental or intentional.
According to an EPA report, the nation’s drinking water and wastewater infrastructure systems need technologies in place that can detect and monitor contaminants and prevent security breaches. In addition, an EPA-derived Threat Ensemble Vulnerability Assessment program specifically calls for a suite of software tools that can simulate threats against drinking-water systems, measure potential public-health impacts, and evaluate mitigation and response strategies.
Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M., are addressing the need. They have developed a software program that can be used with wireless devices to track the health of water systems.
The researchers also are working closely with the EPA, the University of Cincinnati and the Argonne National Laboratory on warning systems that can monitor municipal water systems to determine when a contamination occurs, said Chris Burroughs, spokesperson for Sandia.
For more than three years, the collaborative team has worked to develop software capable of addressing water-security issues. Burroughs said the beta software can aid in the placement of wireless sensors during the design stage of a contaminant-warning system, establish when and where a contamination event happens, track changes in the wireless sensor system caused by an intrusion, and determine when the contamination event is over.
The software also lets system designers assess wireless data signals to detect or track nonfunctioning sensors and changing water-quality baselines, said William Hart, the project leader. He noted that the software’s embedded event-detection method and its sensor-simulator programs are compatible with off-the-shelf sensors commonly deployed by water utilities to monitor water quality.
Hart said the software “helped the EPA meet several internal milestones,” including the development of a contaminant-incident timeline for the EPA’s WaterSentinel program, which asks scientists to design and demonstrate an effective contamination-warning system for the detection of, and appropriate response to, drinking-water threats and incidents. A water utility in an undisclosed city will test the system, which includes determining the best locations for wireless sensor placement.
“These tests will assess the event-detection methods so we can better understand how to respond more intelligently to contaminations as they occur,” Hart said.
Sandia also is working with the American Water Works Association Research Foundation, a nonprofit organization that sponsors research to enable water utilities to provide safe drinking water to the public. The two entities plan to develop a sensor simulator that deciphers how contaminant-warning systems may function when operated in water-distribution systems, Burroughs said.
Protecting the grid
Almost every form of productive activity, whether in manufacturing plants, water systems, ports, schools, hospitals or homes, requires electricity. Thus, the academic community continues to research ways to protect the U.S. electrical grid from natural or unnatural shutdowns.
At Iowa State University, Professor Arun Somani and his team of electrical and computer engineering graduate students are using wireless sensor technologies to monitor activity on electricity poles to stave off tampering. Dubbed Lookinglass, the project tests wireless-sensor technology and its ability to protect the 157,810 miles of U.S. power lines against possible terrorism and natural disasters, Somani said.
The team has been working on the project for more than two years, supported by a $420,000 grant from the National Science Foundation and a $20,000 grant from the Information Infrastructure Institute. The funding pays for the development of a prototype early-warning-and-control system that uses wireless-sensor technology.
Somani said ruggedized wireless sensors are mounted on electrical poles and programmed to monitor and to assess the mechanical health of power-transmission hardware. They also examine the electrical properties of the line, including the current voltage and the electric magnetic field, as well as the physical aspects of the infrastructure, such as vibrations or motion.
In addition, a video-surveillance camera is coupled with a wireless sensor that detects intrusions. Video is captured and transmitted at 15 frames per second, Somani said. Camera nodes in the network are programmed to interpret video feeds to determine whether sabotage is happening in that particular scene or if there is a natural intrusion, such as migrating birds perched on electrical lines. Each frame is captured and logged; when an alarm is raised the data then are transmitted via the wireless-sensor network to a centralized command-and-control center.
A cluster of sensors, dubbed the gateway, communicates the data, said Toray Celij, a research assistant working on the project. Celij said sensors are placed 150 to 200 feet apart, and each one communicates with the others in the system every few milliseconds on the 2.4 GHz frequency band until the signal reaches a base station. Data then are analyzed by a software program, which can determine whether problems can be solved without human intervention. The system also can be deployed over the 700 MHz band should it become available to utilities, he said.
If a problem exists, an alarm on the sensor unit will sound; video data then are processed locally, and a computer decides whether the incident qualifies as an emergency. Alarms can be sent via e-mail or a text message to a PDA — it all depends on the event and the best person to receive the message, Celij said.
“What happens if a volt of current goes through a bird and a circuit breaks? Those circuit breakers have to be put on line by someone miles away, which means a blackout for the community,” Celij said. “So if the system detects it has a bird on the line and it sparks, that means the bird has caused the circuit to trip. The system then can turn it back on without human intervention. If the problem cannot fix itself, such as someone trying to sabotage it, then [the system] reports it to a human operator.”
Somani hopes to field-test the system by year’s end. “Power companies spend a lot of time figuring out where the problem is before they even send out a crew,” he said. “We expect this system will help dispatch those crews much faster.”
Power systems currently are open and accessible to anyone, especially in remote areas, Somani said, which makes the nation vulnerable to those determined to disrupt U.S. commerce and security. And that makes the wireless systems that have been developed to protect the electrical grid — as well as chemical plants, ports, water facilities and other critical infrastructure — incredibly important.
“Once you take power out, you can do almost anything,” he said.
|Nearly half the states have at least one chemical facility where a worst-case release could affect more than 1 million people.|
|Source: Environmental Protection Agency|