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Are We Really Prepared for an Attack? Challenge to Protecting Municipal Utilities

NCJ Number
Homeland Defense Journal Volume: 6 Issue: 2 Dated: March 2008 Pages: 18-20
David L. Russell
Date Published
March 2008
3 pages
This article describes the components and structure of municipal utility systems and assesses their vulnerability to terrorist attack, followed by some suggestions for improving their security.
Municipal utility systems either distribute a needed substance to consumers (gas, electric, and water) or collect a substance from their customers (sewer systems). They all feature centralized generation or collection points that make them vulnerable to direct attack. The distribution and collection systems are often complex, poorly monitored, and lack intermediaries that monitor the interaction between the consumer and the treatment or generation works. Consumers generally report system failures and breaches before the utility is aware of them. This article focuses on the components and operations of municipal water supplies and sewage systems. An overall assessment of utility systems notes that they are not designed to be secure against a planned attack. Making them invulnerable to tampering and attacks by terrorists would be very expensive, difficult, time-consuming, and next to practically impossible. There are, however, a number of relatively inexpensive actions that can increase security and the public's confidence in distribution systems. Security can be increased at the operations level by requiring employees to wear badges that are distinctive and controlled in their distribution; requiring workers to wear their badges and uniforms at all times when they are on duty; installing fencing, locks, and access controls for facilities; training workers, technicians, and operators to lock doors and access panels; and conducting periodic unannounced security drills. Additional communication equipment and cross-communication with other municipal departments is also cost-effective. In addition, planning and training for a response to the effects of a terrorist attack is important.