Sandia LabNews

Sandia works with water association, EPA to develop program to assess vulnerabilities of water systems in US

For Jeffrey Danneels (5862) the last three weeks have been a flurry of phone calls and e-mails from congressional staff members, water utilities, various associations and governmental agencies, and others. All are asking how they can ensure that the water distribution systems in this country remain secure.

Jeffrey, who is leading Sandia’s efforts to protect the US water infrastructure, has some answers.

Over the past year and a half he has worked with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the American Water Works Association Research Foundation (AwwaRF) developing a program to train water utilities to assess the vulnerabilities of their systems and develop measures to reduce the risks and mitigate the consequences of terrorist or other criminal attacks.

"We started exploring the possibility of working together to enhance the security of America’s water infrastructure — supply, treatment, and distribution — well before the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon," says Jeffrey, Manager of Civilian Surety Programs Dept. 5862. "We are putting a program in place that involves on-site assessments of utilities and training sessions for utility personnel."

The initiative comes at a time of heightened concern about the security of water supplies nationwide. Threats range from vandalism to terrorism to intentional contamination.

The program stems from a performance-based vulnerability assessment methodology initially developed by Sandia to support the national nuclear security mission. It has since been modified to evaluate the vulnerability to terrorist attack of government buildings, air force bases, nuclear power plants, nuclear processing facilities, prisons, and federal dams.

In the late 1990s the vulnerability assessment work on federal dams caught the attention of the AwwaRF and led the organization to Jeffrey, hoping Sandia could provide the same help to water utilities as it did for dams.

About the same time, then-President Clinton issued Presidential Decision Directive (PDD) 62, Combating Terrorism, and PDD 63, Critical Infrastructure Protection, to create an integrated structure for combating terrorist attacks that involve explosives, chemical or biological agents, or sabotage against infrastructure. In PDD 63, the Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office was created to coordinate critical infrastructure assurance initiatives and create a well-directed national plan.

The EPA, the agency responsible for protecting the water supply, turned to Sandia to conduct a workshop for utilities on how to assess the vulnerabilities of their systems and reduce the risks of attacks.

The November 2000 workshop was attended by a national audience made up of members of the AwwaRF, the American Water Works Association (AWWA), the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA), water utilities, Centers for Disease Control, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and others.

Also, as part of the effort, Jeffrey conducted assessments of two water utilities, going onsite for the analyses.

Now, as a result of the Washington and New York City terrorist attacks, he is designing additional workshops for AwwaRF and AWWA. The workshops are scheduled to begin in November.

EPA’s primary concerns center around water distribution systems that serve the nation’s 340 cities with 100,000 or more residents. Many are more than 60 years old and were built without particular concern for security.

In looking at different utilities around the country Jeffrey has found a few with shared common security issues — using potentially dangerous chemicals, for example. However, because most systems are quite old, few are configured alike, resulting in different security concerns for each utility.

He offers utilities three steps for assessing the vulnerability of their water infrastructure — detect, delay, and respond.

The first, he says, is to determine how well the system detects a problem, which involves surveying all security and monitoring features. For example, how quickly could the system discover an undesired chemical being pumped into the water supply? (Sandia is developing detection devices — such as the real-time soil and groundwater chemical sensor reported in Sept. 21 Lab News — that will be able to detect events as they occur.)

The second is to measure delay capabilities to determine how well the system can stop undesired events. This involves looking at barriers, such as fences and walls, or how long treated water is stored before it is distributed into the water supply.

The third is to measure response capabilities — determining the capacity of private guard forces and local, state, and federal authorities to respond.

"It is important that utilities be able to detect the problem and delay it long enough for the response to arrive and defeat it," Jeffrey says.

This could mean preventing an undesirable chemical that was released from spreading in the water distribution system before it could be cleaned up. Or it could involve stopping an intruder in a pump station from doing physical harm to critical assets before guards or police can arrive at the scene.

Jeffrey says another important aspect of a vulnerability assessment is to fully characterize the system to develop a complete understanding of the site, including its overall mission and operations. Only once this is understood can the undesired events and possible consequences be determined. At the highest level, typical undesired events for water supply, treatment, and distribution may include loss of power and system control, water supply contamination, and distribution loss.

"It’s only after you figure out the undesired events that you can determine the critical assets to protect," Jeffrey says.

The monetary cost of security, Jeffrey says, depends on the level of protection a utility wants and can afford.

"A low security level might mean hiring a security guard and installing some detection features around critical assets, and that won’t cost a lot," he says. "But to stop a fairly organized group from committing a terrorist act could be extremely expensive."

The water infrastructure security program is part of the Water Safety, Security, and Sustainability initiative undertaken by Sandia in the past couple of years. Water has been identified as a national security concern, and teams throughout the Labs are integrating years of work into the effort. Future Lab News articles will feature other parts of the program.