Pipeline Emergency Preparedness & Training: What Would You Do? – Responding to a Security-Related Pipeline Incident

Security threats are an ever increasing concern for public and private sector entities, including pipeline operators. Cyber-attacks on pipeline control systems and intentional damage to physical assets have occurred in the past, and continue to be a threat.

So, how is this a concern for public sector first responders? Consider the following scenario:

Your department has been dispatched to a reported pipeline dig-in and subsequent release of natural gas. This is a fairly typical call, but in this case the details and incident specifics are significantly different. Upon arrival, you are advised by a local pipeline operator representative that a track hoe, pre-positioned for right of way maintenance, had been commandeered by an environmental extremist who intentionally ruptured the pipeline. The individual triggering the rupture was seriously injured by the force of the escaping gas.

The incident commander is informed by pipeline operations personnel that a mainline valve upstream from the rupture site had been previously damaged and rendered unusable in what has developed into a coordinated, multi-site domestic terrorist attack. As the incident response progresses, the Incident Commander is informed that an environmental extremist group is claiming responsibility for the attack and is threatening further actions against the pipeline operator including placing explosive devices at pipeline facilities.

These events may sound far-fetched, but similar incidents have occurred on pipeline systems around the world, including in the United States. As some radical opposition groups advance their causes, the potential for domestic terrorism against pipelines becomes an increasing concern.

How should public sector emergency responders prepare for and respond to acts of domestic terrorism against pipelines? First, engage in discussions regarding security with the pipeline operators located in your jurisdiction. In addition to traditional information sharing related to pipeline emergency response, conversations related to security procedures, access control, and anti-terrorism processes should be conducted. Most importantly, getting to know your local pipeline operations representatives and understanding their operations is key to effective security awareness.

From a response perspective, public sector responders should treat every dispatch to a pipeline incident as a unique event and associated set of circumstances. Thorough scene size-ups should be conducted and include identification of traditional hazards, as well as security threats. Particular attention should be paid to suspicious persons or items such as possible explosive devices. Further, vehicles near the incident site that appear abandoned may hold clues indicating signs of an intentional act.

Domestic terrorism acts on pipelines are not frequent events faced by public sector responders. However, prudence dictates that responders consider these events in their pre-planning and response coordination dialogue with pipeline operators.

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