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Strategic Security Measures for Water Infrastructure

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As the 10th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 (9/11) attacks is fast approaching, the United States (U.S.) has no definite information of terror threat.  According to the systematic approaches of risk assessment and concise intelligence analysis presented in the book entitled, "Risk Assessment for Water Infrastructure Safety and Security" (hereafter, the "RAWISS book"), the terrorists will potentially intrude and launch their next coordinated attacks during the economic recovery and political reform in the U.S. or when the U.S. is not totally on guard.  But these attacks may or may not necessarily happen during the10th anniversary of 9/11. The next coordinated revenge attacks is considered to be a very small-scale probability event for the decision makers and security leaders and general public. Moreover, the enemies knew that it is difficult to initiate massive attacks within the U.S particularly after Bin Laden was killed in May 1, 2011.  Therefore, the terrorist leaders will have to plan for that deemed small-scale probability event to achieve their mission of bringing down U.S. to its knees.  Right now, the government warned U.S. to be watchful and Americans can expect more security at airports, mass transit stations, U.S. borders, government buildings and major athletic events over the next month, said an intelligence official who spoke anonymously to discuss sensitive security matters (CBS News, 2011).  Even though there are grave threats from principal terrorist leaders against the U.S. water infrastructure following 9/11 (Doro-on, 2011) and after May 1, 2011, I still see that most of the water supply systems currently remain unprotected, including dams, reservoirs, aquifer, and aqueducts (Doro-on, 2011).  Meanwhile, the RAWISS book graphically uncovers potential terror threat to inflating extreme events (coordinated attacks), which occur with small probability per cumulative prospect theory rather than a deflating of all small probability events.  Then public will strongly demand government for extensive security to water systems and other infrastructures crucial to the U.S. economy.  The book recommended risk acceptability analysis to screen alternatives for cost-effective security measures and to achieve terrorism risk acceptable to U.S. society. 

Terrorist attacks against water infrastructure through contamination using chemicals that are difficult to treat, blasting of water supply treatment facilities, explosion of petrochemical facilities, and destruction of reservoirs/dams could impact the public in the following ways (Doro-on, 2011):

  • Cause mass casualties and catastrophic health effects (e.g., physical and mental illness, disease, or death)
  • Create chaos in regional or national security
  • Cause damage to public morale and confidence
  • Contaminate the water supply system and cause long-term damage to safe drinking water supplies
  • Disrupt the downstream industry and commercial infrastructure that depend on safe water supplies
  • Create irreversible damage to groundwater resources and water supply systems
  • Cause regional or national economic and financial chaos from the loss of groundwater resources and the water supply system
  • Cause damage to the environment and natural resources
  • Create a need to remediate and replace portions of the water system to make it safe, which could in turn create water shortages or outages
  • Result in significant costs for remediation or replacement of the water supply system, which weaken the U.S. economy

The U.S. government warned Americans to be cautioned without providing specific instructions, and people practically do not know what to do.  This short article is intended to provide some answers to the question "What are the specific security measures against the potential attacks?"  Using the detailed unthinkable terrorism activity scenarios illustrated in the book based on cumulative prospect theory, the following sections discuss some of the strategies to safeguard water infrastructure including other infrastructures and key resources. These do not only apply to U.S. society but also to other nations particularly to the U.S. Allies.

Safety Distance Estimation

Prior to catastrophic incidents, state and federal government should create models of detailed terrorism and disaster activity scenarios qualitatively and quantitatively (Doro-on, 2011) integrating probabilistic risk estimation model and risk acceptability analysis embedded with prospect theory. Then,  proactive responses are used to ensure that resources are sufficient and reach the scene in a timely manner to assist in restoring normal function of state or local government (Doro-on, 2001).  An emergency response station should be located based on the safety distance estimation (see Figure 1) so that the responders can easily assist the public while avoiding the traffic and accidents, which can be created by the adversaries (Doro-on, 2011). This is the guideline adopted by German accident prevention regulations, in which safety distance (in meters) is quantified from the term fยท(M)1/3 (Doro-on, 2011).   The estimated safety distance can also be utilized to design the limits of sophisticated fence for dam protection as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 1.  Estimated Safety Distance (Source: Doro-on, 2011) (Note: This Figure  can be accessed in full size by clicking the "Attachments" tab at the bottom of this page)


Guidelines for Strategic Safeguard Measures

 The uncovering of grave threats in the RAWISS book can lead to strategic improvements in water infrastructure security.  Moreover, the safeguard measures to make it more difficult for the revenge attacks to succeed are provided below:

Mitigation of Financial Support

  • Credit card companies and loan officers shall be cautioned of the potential terrorists planning to acquire loans and applying for credit cards to support their mission. 

Prevention of Improvised Explosive Devices and other Weapons

  • Rental vehicle companies shall meticulously background check suspicious individuals prior to approval and release of rental vehicles. Terrorists are planning to use transportation system for roadblocks and they are considering automobiles to be used as improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
  • Public shall be aware of suspicious individuals purchasing several used vehicles.
  • Public shall be aware of their neighbors particularly those homes located near U.S. borders and water infrastructures (aquifer recharge zone, aqueducts, and dams). Any suspicious act shall be documented and reported to authorities.
  • Credit card companies shall coordinate with department stores monitoring suspicious acts of any person purchases large quantities of pesticides and/or ammonium nitrate based fertilizers in different locations. Department Stores should have procedures to determine and monitor the quantity and purpose of these pesticides, ammonium nitrate based fertilizers, and household chemicals potential to prepare IEDs. 
  • Petroleum companies and Gasoline stations shall monitor suspicious individual(s) who will repeatedly purchase gasoline within a short period of time through detection of their credit or bank cards and video cameras. Development of electronic detection system for gasoline stations shall be required.
  • Secure all smaller planes to prevent terrorists from using them as IEDs to destroy dams and petroleum refineries near water bodies.
  • Employ extensive security systems to monitor potential hijackers from foreign international airports (in underdeveloped countries) heading to  U.S. ports of entry.

Infrastructure Security

  • Shall construct sophisticated fence (see Figure 3) to major infrastructures such as dams, treatment plants, nuclear and petrochemical plants.
  • Implement extensive security systems for all dams because there will be more people die through dam structure failure.  Thus, sophisticated fence is absolutely required (see Figures 2 and 3).
  • Shall dedicate emergency response and security stations within the limits of estimated safety distance from major infrastructures (see Figure 1).
  • All water and wastewater treatment facilities shall be watchful to suspicious individuals that might have surgically implanted bombs.  Procedures identifying suicide bombers shall be developed. Sophisticated fence similar to Figure 3 should be constructed surrounding treatment facilities.
  • Secure all large sewer pipelines and manholes located within large urban areas such as Los Angeles, New York, Washington DC, and Chicago.
  • Wastewater treatment facilities shall secure "Outfall" area by installing sophisticated fence or through other types of security technologies (see Figure 5).
  • Checkpoint stations shall be required to be located on the roads leading to major water infrastructures (i.e., dams, treatment plants, aquifer storage and recover (ASR) facility, recharge zone of an aquifer, and reservoir).
  • The concept of chemical sprayer system similar to Figure 3 shall be employed and developed for protecting sensitive areas and major assets.

Emergency Advanced Water Treatment

  • May need to develop programs to help building emergency advanced water treatment system (i.e., reverse osmosis or membrane filtration) for treating drinking water supply in the event of water contamination.

Improvement of Intelligence Enterprise

  • Shall improve intelligence enterprise plan by incorporating risk acceptability analysis based on cumulative prospect theory as presented in the RAWISS book.  Tactical protection methods can be developed through improvements of intelligence analysis (see Figure 4).

There are more preventive measures presented in the book, entitled "Risk Assessment for Water Infrastructure Safety and Security." The preventive measures listed above could be carried out at a moderate sensible cost, and would extend to an extensive approach and technique toward improving the security of U.S. water infrastructures (Doro-on, 2011).

Figure 2. Dam Security (Source: Derived from the RAWISS Book; Doro-on, 2011)(Note: This Figure  can be accessed in full size by clicking the "Attachments" tab at the bottom of this page)


Figure 3. Sophisticated Fence to Protect Critical Infrastructure (Source: Derived from the RAWISS Book; Doro-on, 2011)(Note: This Figure  can be accessed in full size by clicking the "Attachments" tab at the bottom of this page)


Figure 4. Development of Security Measures Based on the Combat Zone Generated from Intelligence Analysis (Source: Derived from the RAWISS Book; Doro-on, 2011)(Note: This Figure  can be accessed in full size by clicking the "Attachments" tab at the bottom of this page)


Figure 5. Typical Municipal Wastewater Treatment Plant (Source: Derived from the RAWISS Book; Doro-on, 2011)(Note: This Figure  can be accessed in full size by clicking the "Attachments" tab at the bottom of this page)


(This article is an overview of the book entitled, "Risk Assessment Infrastructure Safety and Security". The website address of this article is link on other websites. If you have inquiry or suggestion please contact the author.)

Related Article

Dam Disasters and Terrorist Attacks


CBS News. 2011. 9/11 Anniversary Sparks Rise in Security. (Accessed on August 5, 2011).

A. Doro-on. 2011. Water Infrastructure Security and Safety. CRC Press and IWA Publishing.

Related Publications

Strategic Asset Management of Water Supply and Wastewater Infrastructures - Helena Alegre, Maria do Ceu Almeida
 Publication Date: Sep 2009 - ISBN - 9781843391869

Risk Assessment for Water Infrastructure Safety and Security

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