Compliance inspections, training exercises, physical security reviews and vulnerability assessments are methods the Blue Grass Chemical Activity (BGCA) surety office uses to provide a system of reliability, safety and security to protect the community, workforce and the environment.
BGCA is one of two remaining chemical weapons storage sites in the United States, housing over 101,000 chemical munitions that are awaiting destruction. These weapons, which arrived at the Blue Grass Army Depot (BGAD) in the 1940's and 1960's, include nerve agents GB and VX and the mustard agent H.
"The surety office serves as the eyes and ears of the commander for anything related to security compliance of the chemical weapons and the people who handle them," said James L. Hall, BGCA surety officer. "We ensure leaders and workers have proper control measures in place to provide safe and secure storage of chemical munitions with reliable and trustworthy people."
Surety specialists accomplish this mission through compliance, security and chemical personnel reliability programs and activities. The compliance program consists of a set of processes and checklists to make certain the workforce is following applicable rules and regulations.
"We track all compliance and inspection issues through a locally developed database," said Hall. "This way we don't lose sight of even the most minor infractions. We follow up on corrective actions until we are back in line with regulations and have implemented best practices."
Hall conducts working groups on a regular basis to keep the commander informed of all shortfalls and the progress made to resolve them. He holds surety board meetings twice per year to address concerns and demilitarization issues with the depot, the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant and other partners.
The surety office inspects not only BGCA directorates, but other organizations on the installation as well, including medical, personnel, security and the substance abuse program. Surety experts also lend their services to other installations to assist with compliance across the Army.
Inspection duties include evaluating Chemical Accident and/or Incident Response and Assistance exercises, which are conducted quarterly. Surety team members don vests identifying them as evaluators and disperse to various exercise areas, including the emergency operations center, forward command post, chemical limited area accident site, decontamination station and simulation cell. Evaluators observe response efforts and record areas of concern as well as best practices and provide feedback to BGCA and depot leadership.
The physical security of the chemical weapons is a key area of scrutiny for the surety office. A security expert inspects electronic security measures using a variety of methods and makes recommendations for improvements to safeguard the stockpile. Vulnerability assessments are periodically conducted to spot areas where security could be compromised.
Surety personnel coordinate who is allowed into the chemical limited area where the chemical weapons are stored. They make sure proper background checks have been conducted, access levels have been assigned and personal protective equipment has been issued prior to verifying the entry control roster and submitting it to the site security control center.
Because handling chemical munitions is such a sensitive mission, the Army must have trustworthy and competent personnel to conduct this task. The Chemical Personnel Reliability Program (CPRP) is used to verify that each individual authorized access to chemical agents meets the highest standards of integrity, trust and personal reliability. Each person assigned to work with the chemical weapons must have a thorough background check, submit to random drug testing and agree to disclose any type of life event that could cause a distraction on the job. This includes not only stressful situations, such as a household move or divorce, but also occasions of celebration, such as the birth of a child.
"We want those who work with chemical weapons to do so with the right frame of mind, without any distractions. This is the intent of reporting," said P. Dee Thomas, BGCA CPRP coordinator and surety specialist. "The CPRP requires thorough, accurate documentation and attention to detail so that we successfully continue our mission to safely and securely store the chemical weapons until they are destroyed."
Additionally, the surety office provides subject matter expertise support to the demilitarization plant as the team navigates the integration of the static detonation chamber and main plant into one chemical limited area.
"We work closely with our partners at the depot and the plant to better provide security and oversight of chemical agents as they are being stored and then transported for destruction," said Hall. "We have a shared responsibility to destroy the weapons in a safe, secure and environmentally sound manner. Working together is vital. No one surety office can do it alone."
The commitment to support demilitarization coupled with the recent update to the Army surety regulation has the surety office evolving to best meet the requirements of this unique mission. The office has inherited new responsibilities regarding the oversight, accountability and safety of the chemical weapons stockpile. From a compliance perspective, this will require increased focus on safety processes and chemical agent inventory management.
"The surety office is the backbone of this organization," said Lt. Col. Rodney D. McCutcheon, the BGCA commander. "They are always on the watch to ensure we conduct our mission in full compliance with regulations to protect the safety of the workforce, community and environment until the chemical weapons are destroyed."
The Blue Grass Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant is slated to complete the destruction of the chemical weapons stored at BGAD in 2023.