Under the regulations, each facility, including poultry farms, that possesses or plans to possess more than 7,500 pounds (1,785 gallons) of propane, whether in bulk or not, must complete and submit to the Department of Homeland Security an Internet-based questionnaire known as the "Top Screen".
The questionnaire assesses the level of damage that could result from a terrorist incident at the facility. The American Propane Gas Association believes survey questions will include items such as facility and personnel identifying information (address, key contact, and geographic location); potential loss of life and injuries on or near the facility as a result of the incident; and whether a flammable release worst-case scenario might create exposure to a residential population greater than or equal to 1,000 persons.
The only way to complete the Top Screen questionnaire is via the Internet. Responding in any form other than online, such as by mail or fax, will not be possible. DHS will run answers through a computer program to determine whether the location is high risk by independently calculating populations at risk and potential consequences. If DHS's computers determine that the facility such as a farm is high risk, two additional reports will be required.
A Security Vulnerability Analysis must be completed within 60 days, and must include an asset characterization; threat assessment; security vulnerability assessment; risk assessment; countermeasures analysis. A Security Plan also must be developed within 120 days and must address each vulnerability; describe how security measures will address various potential modes of terrorist attack; and describe how security measures will meet or exceed DHS-mandated performance standards. Both of these reports must be sent to DHS for approval. Violations of these regulations will bring fines of up to $25,000 per day.
Completing the registration and Top-Screen will be very difficult and costly to family- owned poultry farms, protests Delmarva Poultry Industry, a non-profit organization.
Many chicken growers may not have access to the Internet and may have to travel to a town that may have a library with Internet access. Even with access to the Internet at a public facility, many of these growers may not have the computer skills or technical skills necessary to complete the registration and Top-Screen.
Because the registration may require an e-mail address for the DHS to contact the individual with passwords, etc. growers without an e-mail address would not be able to answer the questionaire. The DHS's estimate of 25 to 30 hours to complete the registration and Top-Screen presents a huge and nonsensical burden on these small businesses and is likely to be underestimated for these growers because of travel time and lack of computer skills.
Predictably farmers are furious, but the Department of Homeland Security is digging in saying it is bringing into force the new rule in national interest.
"It would affect almost all of us," said Jenny Rhodes, who has 80,000 roasters in Centreville.
"I could think of a lot easier, better targets" for terrorists than chicken farms, groused Richard Lobb, spokesman for the National Chicken Council, a Washington-based industry group. The U.S. Poultry & Egg Association and the National Turkey Federation have joined the protests.
By industry counts, up to 40,000 farms could be affected by the security proposal.
British police in July thwarted a potentially devastating terrorist plot in London after finding two Mercedes loaded with nails packed around canisters of propane and gasoline set to detonate. In Iraq, the military has seen propane tanks used in homemade bombs.
Still, Maryland's two senators, Democrats Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin, along with Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., wrote to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff asking that the rule be shelved.
"Given the serious threats that are currently facing our country and the limited resources of the Department of Homeland Security, please explain why this initiative is a good use of federal dollars," the senators wrote earlier this month.
"In Delaware, we have 300 chickens for every person who lives here," said Carper, a member of the Homeland Security committee. Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia has expressed similar concerns, spokeswoman Joan Kirchner said.
Department of Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said the agency is right to compile data on dangerous chemicals, even in rural areas, and said farmers would only need to spend "a couple hours" online to comply.
Bill Satterfield, who runs the Delaware-based Delmarva Poultry Industry trade group, said people are not at risk from propane tanks on chicken farms.
"It's ridiculous. Poultry farms are not near population centers. An exploding propane tank would do little harm to the chicken houses, much less any other buildings on the farm, much less anybody else," Satterfield said.