3.23.2009

Wide Open: Insecurity at the Refinery



“If people had any clue how lax the security here was”, he chuckled, “they’d lose it.”

At the time, the words carried very little weight. Still a novice in my job as a security officer at the Refinery, my partner’s comment sparked some curiosity but seemed at the time a harmless quip.

Over the next few years those words would echo repeatedly in my mind.

If you know Alberta, you know the Western Canadian province is home to the enviroNazi-vilified oilsands. You would also know that Alberta is one of the major suppliers of oil and natural gas to the United States, so it stands to reason that in this post-9/11 world protecting the refineries – the people and the billions of dollars worth of equipment - is absolutely vital to the North American economy.

As is the industry norm, the Refinery contracted out the security responsibilities to a private firm to which I was employed. You’d be forgiven if you assumed that security procedures at such an important installation would be given top priority. But as I was to quickly learn, that is not necessarily the case. Procedures were in a constant state of flux – seemingly made on the fly.
On-site training (with the exception of the required First Aid/CPR) was primarily done on-line. Practical, hands-on training mostly came from having to deal with real experiences as they happened.

Not the grandest way to ensure confidence, to be sure.

My first partner, in a case of happenstance, was married to the security company’s representative in charge of several accounts including our Refinery.

Neither one of us had much previous security experience prior to working at the Refinery’s main security gate – the nerve center, if you will. This was not unusual, as many of the Security Officers (S/O) were inexperienced.

However, it wasn’t the experience or lack thereof that was alarming. It was some of the people themselves who raised red flags.

One particular day I arrived for a shift and was informed that one of the S/Os who was guarding a remote off-site warehouse facility the previous night, had (once again) fallen asleep at his post. As is common these days, thieves cut through the fence and had stolen hundreds of dollars worth of copper tubing and wire.

I was already shaking my head at this news when I learned that no one had even realized this had occurred until hours after the next shift had started. Was the S/O in question relieved of his duties? Not at all. In fact, after continuing on for several more months at the same post (and several more instances of sleeping on the job), he was transferred to a different site – at a higher rate of pay.

Not all of what I saw and heard was as whimsical, however.

On one of the required vehicle night patrols, I entered a guardhouse and was met by the strong odor of just-consumed marijuana. When questioned, the S/O denied any wrongdoing. The fact that he couldn’t focus or form coherent sentences didn’t detract from his denial.

When informed of this event, the Security Supervisor – himself a man of questionable intelligence – claimed that without tangible proof, nothing could be done. This, despite on-site drug testing capabilities.

That wasn’t the only time suspicion of on-the-job drug and/or alcohol consumption occurred, but without any further action by the management, the overwhelming feeling for most of the team became ‘why bother?’

A few months later, the Supervisor let it slip that an S/O had been sent back to the security company’s regional office. The reason? He’d made at least one, if not several, hours-long phone calls from his Guardhouse. Where were the calls going to? Somewhere in the Middle East!

Now, at the risk of riling up all of the politically-correct morons out there, it is only natural to raise your eyebrows when a person of Arabic heritage makes strange long-distance calls in the middle of the night. On a company phone. To a terrorist-sponsoring nation. From a North American oil refinery!

That S/O was, in fact, relieved of his duties, but that’s where it ended. No investigation, no follow-up. Apparently, even picking up the phone and dialing the number to see who would answer on the other end was too complicated for the crack security head-honchos.

As time when on, my faith in the security structure all but vanished. The incompetence shown from the top down killed any kind of confidence. Whether it was Officers sleeping on the job, leaving their posts for long periods of time, or having their girlfriends ‘visit’ them in the middle of the night, it seemed no one put actual security as a priority.

Just at the main security gate alone, of the endless stream of vehicles entering and exiting the refinery each day only a handful were checked by security. It wasn’t considered an important aspect of the job, if you can believe it. Sneaking equipment out – or conversely, sneaking something in – would not be difficult whatsoever.

When the economy tanked, things got even worse.

Cuts were announced, and as is usually the case, security was the first to feel the axe. Along with several others, I found myself on the chopping block. In an example of the warped thinking and sub-professionalism from the Security firm, I was informed of my lay-off upon arriving for a scheduled shift – via email.

The cuts took out much of the experienced team (read: those making the top wages), and left the newbies to run the show. Again, not something that instills confidence in the protection and well-being of a major oil refinery.

Epilogue

I have recently learned that what remains at the Refinery as far as security goes is nothing more than a skeleton crew. Major gaps, unqualified and untrained S/O’s saddled with the impossible, unrealistic task of providing a safe and secure environment.

I am more convinced than ever that there will be an incident at a Canadian refinery because of the low priority given to security. The numerous American truck drivers and shippers I had spoken with who enquired as to how the security procedures in Canada could be so relaxed is a tell tale sign. Their alarm rings familiar:

“If people had any clue how lax the security here was…”

1 comment:

Tym_Machine said...

This sh*t about security really gives me the creeps.

As the security guy would say: "I better sleep on it."

That's what happens when the discipline and sense of duty goes overboard.

As for Alberta being vilified by the ROC for being so american friendly, I am not so surprised. Canada has really plunge toward anti-americanism since 9-11 and Eastern Canada with Ontario and Québec leading the pack, is not strange to it.

His Name Was Steven