1. #1
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    Default Removing Placards from Railcars

    They want to thwart terrorists by removing the main source of information for emergency responders.
    Clicky- " http://www.nytimes.com/2005/03/05/na...5d6103&ei=5070 "

    March 5, 2005
    Efforts to Hide Sensitive Data Pit 9/11 Concerns Against Safety
    By CHRISTOPHER DREW

    hey are just pieces of cardboard, and they cover less than a square foot on the side of railroad tank car. But behind them lies a post-9/11 competition between public safety and national security.

    For decades, emergency-response teams approaching train wrecks have peered at the signs through binoculars to see what dangerous chemicals might be leaking. But federal officials will soon decide on a proposal to remove the placards from all tank cars. Their fear is that terrorists could use them to lock in on targets for highly toxic attacks.

    The idea has sparked an outcry from firefighters and rail workers, who say removing the signs could endanger their lives. They say federal officials seem more focused on guarding against a terrorist attack than on the daily threat of accidents.

    "There's this feeling that you have to secure everything possible in every way possible for every possible kind of terrorist attack," Garry L. Briese, executive director of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, said.

    The dispute illustrates a growing push to mask sensitive data about the nation's industrial base from the prying eyes of potential terrorists. In the tug of war over tank cars and other industrial information, critics question whether the move toward secrecy is overwhelming safety concerns and even chilling debates over how to eliminate the vulnerabilities.

    People who live near chemical and nuclear plants, dams and oil and gas pipelines complain that it has become harder to find out about disaster plans and environmental hazards, and some have sued for more information. Engineering reports have been stripped from government Web sites, and several agencies are creating new controls on sensitive information that go far beyond the wide-ranging classification system built in the cold war.

    Federal officials say although they are trying to strike a reasonable balance, some clashes are inevitable, and more are likely to occur. If delicate information leaks out, "it gives our adversaries too much of a picture of what our vulnerabilities are," Jack L. Johnson Jr., chief security officer at the Department of Homeland Security, said.

    Internal government e-mail messages show that months before the train bombings last March in Madrid, transportation officials stopped the Defense Intelligence Agency from releasing a report on rail vulnerabilities in the United States.

    The messages, which were obtained by The New York Times from a former federal official, show that the report was intended to spark debate among officials on improving rail security. But after complaints from the industry, one senior transportation official helped block the report by arguing that if it became public "I could foresee this paper being a handout in the next session of Al Qaeda's rail-attack course."

    A similar secrecy question is unfolding in Washington. On Tuesday, the District of Columbia Council extended a ban on shipping hazardous cargo through Washington.

    Even as it opposed the ban, the CSX railroad company quietly re-routed some cargo away from Capitol Hill last spring. But citing security, railroad and security officials refused for months to tell the Council about the rerouting. It turns out that the railroad simply shifted the cargoes to tracks in other neighborhoods. Federal and railroad officials said the other tracks seemed less likely to be targets.

    A Council member, Kathy Patterson, said, "There was just a total alliance between the homeland security and railroad officials that was very disheartening."

    Another hot area of debate over secrecy is the atomic energy industry. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has stashed away an enormous trove of documents about nuclear power plants, suspending access to much of its Web site while weeding out reports that might aid terrorists.

    A spokeswoman for the commission, Sue F. Gagner, said that access to 380,000 documents was suspended last October and that 120,000 had been made available again.

    "We think it's very important to be diligent about having information that could potentially be helpful to a terrorist," Ms. Gagner said.

    The commission has also issued classified orders on how the plants guard against terror attacks, and citizens' groups have been fighting in court to demand public input.

    "You can hide the information, but if the vulnerability still exists, the bad guys will find it," said Gary D. Bass, executive director of OMB Watch, a group in Washington that supports more openness. "So let's reduce the vulnerability instead."

    Mr. Bass said similar debates had prompted some complexes like a sprawling sewage plant in Washington to switch to less-toxic chemicals.

    In some instances, new dictates have eclipsed broader health and safety concerns.

    Living Rivers, an environmental group in Utah, sued a federal agency after it had refused to release flood maps showing what areas would be inundated if major dams failed. A federal judge ruled for the agency, saying he agreed that releasing the maps "could increase the risk of an attack on the dams."

    The shift to greater secrecy began after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Mr. Johnson, of the Homeland Security Department, said a captured training manual showed that Al Qaeda expected to glean 80 percent of what it needed to plan attacks in the United States from open sources.

    The government has turned to a smorgasbord of new controls for withholding sensitive - but unclassified - information.

    The Homeland Security Department has designations like "Sensitive Homeland Security Information" and "Protected Critical Infrastructure Information." Airport workers use "Sensitive Security Information" to hold back the details of pat-downs. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission stamps "Critical Energy Infrastructure Information" on pipeline maps.

    Officials said many companies had long resisted disclosing security flaws to the government out of fear of leaks. Mr. Johnson said that the department was blending what it obtained from the companies with intelligence about terrorist intentions and that it intended to share much of that analysis with local officials who agree to keep it confidential.

    Sometimes the battles are more visible. Since chlorine leaking from a derailed tank car killed nine people and injured hundreds last month in South Carolina, the fight over the railroad placards has emerged as the most potent symbol of the debate.

    The Homeland Security and Transportation Departments have been considering whether to remove the placards since August.

    Firefighters, railroad workers and large chemical companies are adamant about keeping the placards. Statistics show that chemicals leak from dozens of rail cars a year and that deaths occur periodically.

    The chlorine placard is black and white. It has a skull and crossbones and the number 1017, the chlorine code. Without placards, "we'd be completely in the dark" at many crashes, said Joe Ashbaker, a supervisor in the San Bernardino County Fire Department in California.

    The railroads have their doubts. "We were for the placards, until 9/11, when it became clear they presented a security risk," the industry's lobbying group, the Association of American Railroads, said in a statement.

    The railroads also say they are working to create a system that meets security and safety needs.

    But two studies by the Transportation Department have shown that the alternatives, electronic systems that could transmit lists of chemicals on a train by radio or satellite, would be more expensive, cumbersome and less effective on safety. Texas A&M University is finishing another study.

    Jamie Conrad, a lawyer for the American Chemistry Council, which lobbies for large chemical makers, said he could see how a placard might "advertise a little bit" the best cars to attack.

    "But where we come down is that if you take it off, you know that people will be killed in accidents," Mr. Conrad said. "And you're basically balancing that against the theoretical prospect that terrorists might be lurking on that corner."


    Walt Bogdanich and Jenny Nordberg contributed reporting for this article.

  2. #2
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    Angry Bad idea

    This is a bad idea. I have been involved in emergency management since 1967, long before the modern placard system. We now have a system in place that provides first responders with very basic information which helps to save lives. Both their's and citizens.

    Would be terrorists are way too smart to be fooled by any type of coded system and how would we ever train all first responders in such a system.

    I deal daily with the second busiest freeway in the country, in terms of truck traffic, and a freight railroad that runs 20 plus trains a day. Placards are the only thing we have to give us at least a clue as to what to do.

    Stay safe,

    Pete
    Pete Sinclair
    Hartford, MI
    IACOJ (Retired Division)

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    Exclamation

    Lordee. Lordee, whats we goin to do now????


    Most of the trains I have seen have had their placards changed, damaged or torn off by vandals.

    You always need to consult the consist and not reley on the placard.

    Motor carriers are no different. Truckers for whatever reason, don't flip the placard to the correct symbol or someone messes with them while the rig is in a truck stop.
    Stay Safe and Well Out There....

    Always remembering 9-11-2001 and 343+ Brothers

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    Default

    It should be real simple to deal with from a technological standpoint. (funds for my idea to work it a whole other issue).
    We need a true standing data base in which the car ID numbers are recorded when HazMat is loaded on them and then recorded as emptied when they are dumped. Then as an insident occures, all the first responder needs to do is look up the data base on their mobile data link or radio in the car number for their dispatch to look up and bring up all the details and approriate MSDS. Should be simple enough to do.
    Be for Peace, but don't be for the Enemy!
    -Big Russ

    Learn from the mistakes of others; you won't live long enough to make them all yourself.

    Quote Originally Posted by nyckftbl View Post
    LOL....dont you people have anything else to do besides b*tch about our b*tching?

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    Question I agree

    Dennis,

    I agree. This could be done. But at what cost. We see on here all the time about departments that don't have turnout gear. Where will they get MDT's.

    Plus, if students can hack into the computer at Harvard, they are sure to be able to hack into a national data base.

    For old timer,

    Didn't say it was a replacement for consist and shipping papers, just a good way to start, looking thru binoculars, for the first responder who is not trained above the operations level.

    Stay safe,

    Pete
    Pete Sinclair
    Hartford, MI
    IACOJ (Retired Division)

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    Default Hmmm..

    I think the terrorist are going to do their thing
    regardless of the placard. Please just leave them on.

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    Default Re: I agree

    Originally posted by pete892
    Dennis,

    I agree. This could be done. But at what cost. We see on here all the time about departments that don't have turnout gear. Where will they get MDT's.

    Plus, if students can hack into the computer at Harvard, they are sure to be able to hack into a national data base.

    For old timer,

    Didn't say it was a replacement for consist and shipping papers, just a good way to start, looking thru binoculars, for the first responder who is not trained above the operations level.

    Stay safe,

    Pete
    Well the infrastructure is there, just need to do the programing. How do the departments that are short on funds call for mutual aid? The same system can be used, sure passing the info to a screen would be better then passing it word for word over the radio, but for a first response it would be fine, the HazMat teams have the comm and computer equipment already in most places, so once they take over the info would be all right there. Looking through binoculars at the big white numbers to read in to a radio is much easier and has the potential to provide more info then reading a tiny little placard.

    They can hack the info now from the railroads internal audit and inventory, don't figure how the removal of placards will make that much of a difference
    Be for Peace, but don't be for the Enemy!
    -Big Russ

    Learn from the mistakes of others; you won't live long enough to make them all yourself.

    Quote Originally Posted by nyckftbl View Post
    LOL....dont you people have anything else to do besides b*tch about our b*tching?

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    Default

    Wow that's just stupid willing to put us in danger once again to hide things from terrorists because home defense government can't do a decent job wow. Good times well hope it doesn't happen but if it does god bless us all once again.
    " We are not extraordinary people , we are people caught in extraordinary situations. " Chapter 1 IFSTA Manual

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    Default

    In order for DoT & Homeland Security (HS) to get away with changing the placard requirement they need to open up the issue up for public comment. That's where we chime in. As an interested party (as a group and as individuals) we can bombard them with reasons why the placards will save more lives in the long run than not placarding will.

    It hasn't been too long (a few years) that OSHA has allowed the keeping of electronic MSDS' in the workplace. And how long have computers & the internet been around? In terms of doing away with placards and moving forward with tracking hazmat shipments electronically, I don't see a mandatory global electronic solution being implemented any time soon (another comment period??? ) Besides, I'm sure the transport, chemical, and rail industries & unions will have plenty to say in their comments back to DoT/HS.

    Having said that....HS has been able to get away with plenty under the auspices of the "war on terrorism."

    Naturally...just my opinion.

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