Is The Nation's Water Supply Safe?
America’s Fire Hydrants Present
the Next Great Threat to Homeland Security …
Are We Doing All We Can to Protect the Public?
Biological warfare, unprotected
national borders, and threats at sea … all are on the hit
list for those who seek to strike terror in the hearts of Americans.
Even with the extraordinary security measures our government leaders
are establishing, we live in an era of continual threat. Most citizens
don’t realize that one of the most easily accessible and dangerous
vulnerabilities that terrorists could exploit remains largely unchecked
– America’s fire hydrants.
It has been acknowledged
by government security agencies – including the FBI and the
White House – that our country’s water distribution
system is most susceptible to terrorist attacks. In fact, when asked
to identify serious vulnerabilities of our drinking water systems,
more than 40 nationally recognized water experts identified our
nation’s distribution system – and specifically referenced
fire hydrants as a top vulnerability in the GAO report (please login to the secure section to view this report). The report, given to the Senate Committee on Environment
and Public Works, states that “concerns were greatly amplified
… by the discovery of training manuals in Afghanistan detailing
how terrorist trainees could support attacks on drinking water systems.”
The Georgia Association Chiefs of Police issued a Resolution for
the Protection of the Water Supply, supported by experts including
the Federal Government's General Accounting Office, the American
Water Works Association and the Georgia Rural Water Association,
recognizing unprotected fire hydrants as an area of vulnerability
to our drinking water systems. Click
here to view the resolution.
The United States Office of Domestic Preparedness' Urban Area Security
Initiative Program (UASI) recognizes geographic areas that have
been deemed "at risk" to terrorism. The Fiscal Year 2006 UASI Program
provides fiscal assistance to address the unique multi-disciplinary
planning, operations, equipment, training, and exercise needs of
high-threat, high-density urban areas.
The FY 2007 Homeland Security Grant
Program just released in
January 2007. Program guidance and application package is included.The Fiscal Year (FY) 2007 Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP) contains
significant improvements based upon extensive outreach to FY 2006 HSGP participants
and stakeholders. In addition, the risk evaluation that forms the basis for eligibility
under the HSGP has been simplified, refined, and considerably strengthened. The secure section of our web site offers information about many other funding opportunities.
Should your city qualify as a grant candidate, we encourage you
to contact a Homeland Security Products and Services representative to explore options for outfitting
the hydrants in your area.
Prove that the Infrastructure is Vulnerable to Accidental Backflow and Intentional Contamination
Our nation’s water
infrastructure has three main elements: 1) the supply source (lake,
river or well); 2) the treatment facilities; and, 3) the distribution
system. Certainly, protecting supply and treatment facilities was
critically important and every city in the country has rightfully
spent millions of dollars on razor wire, increased security patrols
and video surveillance of its supply sources and its water treatment
plants. Yet thousands of unprotected points of entry to every city’s
system – fire hydrants – sit accessible to accidental backflow or to anyone with
a wrench wishing to do harm.
In a series of tests
in Atlanta, Ga., water officials demonstrated that it only takes
a couple of minutes to access a fire hydrant and insert toxins that
could affect tens of thousands of people. A typical hydrant can
hold up to 17 gallons of something – whether it be an exotic
biological or chemical agent or rat poison found at your local hardware
store. But it doesn't take large quantities of toxins to wreak havoc
and death. As little as 1/20th of a quart of anthrax or ricin will
make one million gallons of water toxic. It takes more than 100
miles of six-inch diameter distribution pipe to accommodate a million
gallons. Very small amounts of a biological or chemical agent is
necessary to permeate a large supply of water. Our secure section lists many of the various chemical and biological agents, as well as the toxicity
levels in each.
Several incidents throughout the world provide a clear indication that water infrastructure networks are a prime target for terrorists.
Consider the following breaches into the distribution systems that could have threatened the lives of millions, as reported by the US Army Corp of Engineers:
In the United States, other instances have demonstrated to officials that our infrastructure is at risk:
- February 2002: Al-Qaida operatives arrested with plans to attack U.S. Embassy water system in Rome with cyanide;
- December 2002: Al-Qaida operatives arrested with plans to attack water networks in neighborhoods surrounding the Eiffel Tower in Paris;
- April 2003: Jordan foils Iraq's plot to poison water system from Zarqa feeding U.S. military bases in the Eastern Desert;
- September 2003: FBI bulletin warns of Al-Qaida plans found in terrorist training camps in Afghanistan to poison water and food supplies in the U.S.;
- Other reported incidents of planned terrorist attacked on water systems worldwide: U.S., France, Italy, Russia, South Africa, Philippines, Turkey, Singapore, Israel, Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan.
- June 2002: Janesville, Wis. Workers at the water utility found
the barbed wire perimeter fence cut and the pad lock to a five
million gallon storage tank cut. No direct evidence of contamination
was found but the tank was drained and super chlorinated as a
- July 2002: Federal officers arrested two Al-Qaida operatives
in Denver with documents detailing plans to contaminate the country's
- January 2003: Someone jumped the barbed wire exterior fence
at a water treatment plant in Debary, Fla., broke the lock on
the entry gate and removed the screens on the aerators. No contaminants
were found. This had the indications of an insider or professional
attack. Introduction of contaminants at this point in the system
would have affected the water quality of 4,000 homes. The water
utility was assessed a fine because it did not immediately notify
the Health Department as required by statute.
- October 2003: A vial of highly concentrated ricin was found
at the Greenville, S.C., post office along with a note saying
the city's water system will be poisoned with ricin unless certain
demands were met regarding the Federal policy as it pertained
to the number of hours that overland truckers were allowed to
drive without rest. Subsequent tests of the water system found
no ricin in the water system.
- In 2004: FBI and Homeland Security issue a bulletin warning
that terrorists were trying to recruit workers at water utilities
as part of a plan to poison our drinking water.
These breaches support the fact that
the water distribution
system is the most vulnerable, and offers those that would do us
harm the ability to affect a large population in a minimal amount
of time without leaving a traceable footprint. The ATV raises water security and hydrant security and addresses
this weakness by acting as a physical barrier that prevents foreign
objects; i.e., biological, radiological or chemical agents, from
being introduced into our water supply at the distribution level
via the fire hydrant. The cost of the device is negligible considering
the price of inaction: possible fatalities and a public distrust
in our nation’s water infrastructure.