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Improving the Nation’s Water Security: Opportunities for Research 1 Introduction The concern over terrorist attacks of recent years has raised awareness of the vulnerability of the nation’s critical infrastructures, including water systems, and has accelerated activities to improve water security. In September 2002, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) formed the National Homeland Security Research Center1 (NHSRC) to manage, coordinate, and support research and technical assistance in the area of homeland security, with a major initiative related to protection of the nation’s water and wastewater infrastructure. This report provides a review of the progress of the NHSRC’s water security2 research and technical support activities and makes recommendations for strengthening the research program. In this introductory chapter, the scope of security threats to water and wastewater systems, the role of science and technology in countering terrorism, and the EPA’s role in drinking water and wastewater security research are discussed. The chapter concludes with the committee’s charge to set the context for this report. SCOPE OF SECURITY THREATS TO WATER AND WASTEWATER SYSTEMS Safety and reliability have always been important to water and wastewater utilities, but the scope and scale of threats from terrorism have increased attention to issues of security. While contingency plans have existed for decades within the water and wastewater utilities industry to handle power interruptions or natural events such as flooding, new security concerns include disruption of service by physical attack (e.g., 1 For further information on the NHSRC, please see http://www.epa.gov/nhsrc/about.htm. 2 In this report, the term “water security” is considered to include drinking water and wastewater security issues.
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Improving the Nation’s Water Security: Opportunities for Research explosives), breaches in cyber security, and the intentional release of contaminants (including chemical, biological, and radiological agents). Both drinking water and wastewater systems are vulnerable to terrorist attack. The consequences of security threats involve potential mortality, injury, or sickness; economic losses; extended periods of service interruption; and a loss of public confidence in the safety and quality of drinking water supplies—a major concern even without a serious public health consequence. Flushing a drinking water distribution system in response to intentional chemical contamination could transport contaminants to the wastewater system and, unless removed by wastewater treatment, into receiving waters; thus, large-scale environmental impacts could also result from water security events. Security threats to wastewater systems, while posing a less direct impact on public health, are nevertheless serious concerns. Chemical or microbial agents added in relatively small quantities to a wastewater system could disrupt the treatment process, and a physical attack on a wastewater collection system could create local public health concerns and potentially large-scale environmental impacts. Wastewater collection systems (e.g., large-diameter sewer mains) may also serve as conduits for malicious attacks via explosives that could cause a large number of injuries and fatalities. An attack on a wastewater system could also create public health concerns if untreated wastewater were discharged to a river used as a downstream drinking water supply or for recreational purposes (e.g., swimming, fishing). Threats to water security also raise concerns regarding cross-sector interdependencies of critical infrastructures. Water utilities are largely dependent upon electric power to treat and distribute water. Likewise, electric power is essential to collect and treat wastewater, although diesel power generators can be used in the short term. The firefighting ability of municipalities would be seriously weakened without an adequate and uninterrupted supply of water, and intentional fires could be set as part of a terrorist attack to further exacerbate this impact. Explosive attacks in wastewater collection systems could affect other critical colocated infrastructures, such as communications. Many of the principles used to prepare for and to respond to water security threats are directly applicable to natural hazards. Hurricane Katrina reminded the nation that natural disasters can cause both physical damage and contamination impacts on water and wastewater systems. Moreover, natural disasters (e.g., earthquakes, floods) and routine system problems (e.g., aging infrastructure, nonintentional contamination events) are far more likely to occur than a terrorist attack. An epidemic
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Improving the Nation’s Water Security: Opportunities for Research or pandemic illness could also create failures in smaller water or wastewater utilities if supply chains become compromised due to widespread absenteeism or if essential personnel are incapacitated. Thus, threats from intentional attacks are not the only threats to the integrity of the nation’s water systems. However, preparing for and securing systems against intentional threats also mitigates the impacts of some nonintentional threats and heightens awareness of vulnerabilities of all kinds. ROLE OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY IN COUNTERING TERRORISM The threat of terrorism has prompted research and development of technologies to detect attacks on water systems as well as to decontaminate and restore water systems after an attack. Technological advances have much to offer in new sensing, surveillance, and protection strategies, but these technologies cannot prevent an attack from occurring. The principal efforts aimed at countering terrorism will, as always, rely on diplomacy, international relations, intelligence gathering, and international policy. Technological advances can help prevent or mitigate further harm should an attack take place, although they may also bring unacceptable or unsustainable costs. A National Research Council (NRC) committee concluded in Making the Nation Safer (NRC, 2002) that “the role of technology can be overstated.” A well-reasoned research program in science and technology is, nevertheless, a vital component of strategies for countering terrorism and is essential for other, more common problems. No technology can eliminate all vulnerabilities, but prudent application of current knowledge and future research advances in science and technology remains a wise investment. ROLE OF EPA IN WATER SECURITY Several federal legislative acts and presidential directives to protect the nation’s critical infrastructures against terrorism set out the role of the EPA in coordinating the security of the nation’s water systems (see Box 1-1). Within the EPA, both the Office of Water and the Office of Research and Development (ORD) support efforts to carry out these federal laws and directives. This report focuses on the research agenda of the NHSRC within the ORD, but the roles of both EPA offices are
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Improving the Nation’s Water Security: Opportunities for Research briefly described here because both are involved in water and wastewater security. The Office of Water is responsible for implementing the EPA’s water quality activities “including development of national programs, technical policies, and regulations relating to drinking water, water quality, groundwater, pollution source standards, and the protection of wetlands, marine, and estuarine areas.”3 The Office of Water houses the Water Security Division, which provides guidance and tools to drinking water and wastewater utilities as they assess and reduce their vulnerabilities. The Office of Water also provides tools and training to help utilities plan for and practice responses to emergencies, offers technical and financial assistance to utilities to support security initiatives, develops outreach materials, and supports information sharing mechanisms (EPA, 2004a). Additionally, the Office of Water works to develop laboratory capabilities and promote monitoring and detection capacities for drinking water systems under Homeland Security Presidential Directive (HSPD) 9 (see Box 1-1). The EPA’s ORD is the agency’s scientific research arm. Its mission is to: perform research and development to identify, understand, and solve current and future environmental problems; provide responsive technical support to the EPA’s mission; integrate the work of the ORD’s scientific partners (other agencies, nations, private-sector organizations, and academia); and provide leadership in addressing emerging environmental issues and in advancing the science and technology of risk assessment and risk management.4 The ORD’s NHSRC houses the Water Infrastructure Protection Division, which conducts applied research on ways to protect from, mitigate, respond to, and recover from malicious events on water and wastewater systems. Specific examples of the NHSRC’s water security initiatives include technical assessments of analytical tools and procedures; evaluations of new technologies; and the development of mathematical models, technical resource databases, decontamination techniques, and risk assessment methods. Most of these research products are intended 3 http://www.epa.gov/epahome/locate1.htm. 4 http://www.epa.gov/ord/htm/aboutord.htm.
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Improving the Nation’s Water Security: Opportunities for Research for use by water security stakeholders, including water and wastewater systems ranging in size from small to large. The budget of the NHSRC’s Water Infrastructure Protection Division was $6 million for each of fiscal years 2005 and 2006 (exclusive of EPA salaries; Kim Fox, EPA, written communication, 2006). This funding level represents a substantial portion of the $16 million available to the entire NHSRC.5 Water Security Research and Technical Support Action Plan In early 2003, a draft Water Security Research and Technical Support Action Plan (Action Plan) was prepared jointly by the ORD and the Office of Water to plan for meeting the EPA’s water security responsibilities. The Action Plan covered a three- to four-year time frame (consistent with the envisioned lifespan of the NHSRC, which was established as a “temporary center”) and focused on addressing the most immediate water security research and technical support needs. The overall goal was to develop and provide useful tools and technologies to water system managers that would help them protect drinking water and wastewater systems. To achieve this broad goal, the EPA organized the Action Plan and its research projects around the following seven specific issues: protecting drinking water systems from physical and cyber attacks; identifying drinking water threats, contaminants, and other threat scenarios; improving analytical methodologies and monitoring systems for drinking water; containing, treating, decontaminating, and disposing of contaminated water and materials; planning for contingencies and addressing infrastructure interdependencies; 5 The NHSRC focuses its research and development efforts on five primary thrust areas: (1) Threat and Consequence Assessment (improvement of risk assessment techniques), (2) Decontamination & Consequence Management (decontamination of contaminated buildings), (3) Water Infrastructure Protection (protection of U.S. drinking and wastewater systems), (4) Response Capability Enhancement, and (5) Technology Testing and Evaluation (http://www.epa.gov/nhsrc/about.htm).
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Improving the Nation’s Water Security: Opportunities for Research BOX 1-1 Legislative Acts and Directives Set the Context for EPA’s Water Security Research Program Laws and directives germane to the EPA’s role in protecting the nation’s drinking water and providing related research and technical support include: Presidential Decision Directive (PDD) 39: United States Policy on Counterterrorism PDD 63: Critical Infrastructure Protection Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act (Bioterrorism Act—Public Law No. 107-188), National Strategy for Homeland Security (Office of Homeland Security, 2002), HSPD-7: Critical Infrastructure Identification, Prioritization, and Protection (Bush, 2003), HSPD-9: Defense of United States Agriculture and Food (Bush, 2004), and HSPD-10: Biodefense for the 21st Century.a In 1995, the United States Policy on Counterterrorism required all federal agencies to plan for terrorist attacks and designated the EPA to provide environmental response support. In 1998, President Clinton in PDD 63 identified water as one of the nation’s critical infrastructures, and the EPA was assigned responsibility as the lead agency for coordinating efforts to protect water from intentional attacks. The Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act signed in 2002 required the EPA to review: (1) methods to prevent, detect, and respond to the intentional introduction of chemical, biological, or radiological contaminants into community water systems and their source waters and (2) methods by which terrorists or other individuals or groups might disrupt the supply of safe drinking water by interfering with conveyance, collection, treatment, and storage facilities or with cyber infrastructure. It also required the EPA to provide community water systems (those that serve over 3,300 people) with baseline information needed to conduct vulnerability assessments and to provide general security guidance to smaller water systems. The National Strategy for Homeland Security sought to define the goals of homeland security and the roles of the federal executive branch, nonfederal governments, the privatesector, and citizens in achieving them. Pro-
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Improving the Nation’s Water Security: Opportunities for Research tection of critical infrastructures and key assets is a major thrust. Each critical infrastructure sector is assigned a lead federal agency primarily responsible for coordinating security efforts, and the strategy designated the EPA as the lead agency for the water sector. A Strategic Plan for Homeland Security (EPA, 2002) was subsequently developed to ensure that the EPA met its traditional mission of protecting the environment and safeguarding human health while additionally addressing its new homeland security responsibilities. HSPD-7 instructs the EPA to take the lead role in protecting the nation’s drinking water and wastewater systems. The EPA is accordingly responsible for establishing collaborations among federal departments and agencies, state and local governments, and the private sector. For example, the EPA is responsible for coordinating with the Department of Homeland Security in support of the goals set in the National Infrastructure Protection Plan (DHS, 2006a) for protecting the nation’s critical infrastructure. The EPA was also tasked to facilitate the evaluation of vulnerabilities of water systems and to encourage risk management strategies to prevent or mitigate the effects of attacks against critical water infrastructure. HSPD-9 includes the following tasks for the EPA: develop surveillance and monitoring systems for early detection of dangerous agents; develop a national laboratory network for water quality; enhance intelligence capabilities regarding threats, delivery systems, and methods that could be directed against the water sector; create a new capacity to enhance detection and characterization of an attack; and expand the development of countermeasures against the intentional introduction or natural occurrence of catastrophic diseases through research on detection methods, prevention technologies, agent characterization, and dose-response relationships for high-consequence agents in the water supply. HSPD-10 assigns the EPA the responsibility of developing strategies, guidelines, and plans for decontamination, remediation, and cleanup of contamination events, including those involving the water system. a See http://www.fas.org/irp/offdocs/nspd/hspd-10.html for a nonclassified summary of HSPD-10.
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Improving the Nation’s Water Security: Opportunities for Research targeting impacts on human health and informing the public about risks; and protecting wastewater treatment and collection systems. The NRC organized a panel of experts and published A Review of the EPA Water Security Research and Technical Support Action Plan (NRC, 2004). The report contained recommendations on the research plan and on program strategy, prioritization of research thrusts, leadership, and communication/coordination with stakeholders. While endorsing the EPA’s short-term, applied research approach, identification of long-term research needs was also urged. Following the NRC review, the EPA made revisions to the Action Plan, and additional program adjustments were made as the research program evolved and the NHSRC was made permanent. For example, the NHSRC staff adapted the research plan to respond to recent presidential directives (see Box 1-1). The EPA also sought feedback on its research directions from water and wastewater industry stakeholders through three Water Sector Security Workshops held in 2005 (EPA, 2006c), and the EPA is receiving further guidance on its research program from the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The work identified in the Action Plan has been conducted in partnership with several water-related professional organizations in the private sector and with other federal agencies. These partners include the American Water Works Association Research Foundation, the Water Environment Research Foundation, the American Society of Civil Engineers, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, DHS, the U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The Action Plan does not attempt to incorporate research and development efforts outside of those funded by the EPA, such as work conducted by private industry. The products of the Action Plan to date have largely focused upon making compilations of existing data available to water infrastructure customers through various media (e.g., documents, online databases, training modules). The NHSRC also conducts applied research to address data gaps and develop new methods and tools, but the practical needs of water infrastructure stakeholders remain the driving force behind all of these initiatives. The importance of the NHSRC’s technical support role is not only evident from these activities but also from the following statement of the NHSRC goals for fiscal year 2005:
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Improving the Nation’s Water Security: Opportunities for Research to focus on technical information exchange and collaborations with the water industry, addressing the needs outlined in the Action Plan, and to continue to work with the DHS and other partners; to revisit issues and needs with key stakeholder and user groups; to communicate results of EPA research and technical support under the Action Plan; and to introduce and test products for use by stakeholders (J. Herrmann, EPA, personal communication, 2005). COMMITTEE CHARGE Following the first NRC review, the EPA again approached the NRC for advice on its water security research program. The EPA was approaching the end of the planning time frames originally developed in the Action Plan, and this second NRC study was motivated in large part by the shift in status of the NHSRC from temporary to permanent and the accompanying need to address strategic planning for long-term research. The NRC’s Water Science and Technology Board appointed a committee of experts that was tasked to: provide a readily accessible cadre of experience, knowledge, and expertise to advise EPA in support of efforts to maintain safety of the nation’s water supplies and wastewater systems; review progress by the EPA on its water security activities, including the Water Security Research and Technical Support Action Plan; identify and prioritize short- and long-term research needs in the area of water security, highlighting opportunities for the EPA and other federal and state agencies; and identify opportunities for coordination of water-security-related research and improved communication of the results with relevant entities. To address its task, the committee held five meetings between January 2005 and May 2006. The committee examined relevant EPA documents (both public and classified documents) that had been published by May 2006 and related scientific literature. The committee also received briefings at its public meetings from EPA staff and other organizations and individuals involved in water security research, received classified briefings with EPA staff, and conducted a site visit to the EPA’s water secu-
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Improving the Nation’s Water Security: Opportunities for Research rity research facilities. The review of EPA’s progress on the Action Plan was limited because only a small fraction of the total number of intended products had been published by May 2006. Therefore, much of the review of progress was based on oral and written progress reports (e.g., EPA, 2005a) provided by EPA staff. The committee was also unable to review in detail some of the EPA’s ongoing water security work, such as the Water Sentinel program, because sensitive but unclassified security information could not be protected within NRC operating procedures under Section 15 of the Federal Advisory Committee Act. The committee issued a letter report in November 2005, highlighting immediate opportunities for water security research in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina (NRC, 2005; see Appendix A). In this, the committee’s final report, the committee evaluates research progress to date, analyzes lessons learned from the first four years, and looks ahead to a vision of EPA’s water security research program with specific recommendations for strengthening it. The report is presented in six chapters. Challenges to the EPA in the implementation of its water security research program are discussed in Chapter 2. The committee presents its approach to this study, including criteria for evaluating the value and priority of the EPA water security projects, in Chapter 3. The committee’s assessment of the EPA’s research progress is presented in Chapter 4. Recommendations for improving program implementation and research management are provided in Chapter 5. Recommendations for future research, including ways to address key gaps in the current research program, are discussed in Chapter 6.
Representative terms from entire chapter: