Politics & Laws
(© M. Hladej/MA 31)

Water Utilities Only Safe without Disclosing Information

A clever business move under the cloak of safety, which would have supplied terrorists with useful information to support their cause, was successfully thwarted in a last-minute effort

Today, water utilities all over the globe are increasingly compelled to take initiative to protect their technical equipment and service chains. This is partly due to the growing demands in quality assurance and the need to maintain a safe water supply before the background of natural hazards (such as floods, droughts, etc.).

But there is also the potential threat of terrorists aiming attacks on supply utilities and on the water resources proper (such as by poisoning wells), says the Standards Institution of Israel (ISS) in an announcement sent out in late October to invite international experts to Tel Aviv to discuss the benefits of introducing uniform security standards in water supply.

The aim of the International Workshop on Water Security was to develop a document, a so-called International Workshop Agreement (IWA), have it published by the International Standards Organization (ISO) and, via an ISO Work Item, convert it into an International Standard (ISO Standard). As another ISS announcement refers to “September 11” and “Hurricane Katrina”, it is assumed that the Israeli initiative was devised in collaboration with US Americans (keyword “War on Terror”).

Also water utility stakeholders in old – but sometimes wiser – Europe are well aware of the aforementioned threats. A brief excursion into the work modes of ISO (for international standards) and CEN (for European standards) shall help to clarify the different approaches to the problem: To avoid duplication in standardisation, both standards organisations have signed the Vienna Agreement, which lays down that the very organisation to be the first to develop a Work Item shall also be granted the right to forge ahead with a topic until a relevant standard (ISO or EN) is accomplished;

the other of the two organisations shall maintain secrecy over the issue until both of them have reached consent. An essential difference between ISO Standards (always voluntary) and EN Standards (as a rule voluntary) is that the international standards are promulgated on a much broader level. This is exactly the issue on which the two Austrian experts Wolfgang Zerobin (Vienna Waterworks) and Karl Rohrhofer, both working within CEN TC 164/165 and ISO, base their criticism.

Along with Thomas Zenz (DVGW), they claim that knowledge of potential deficits and maintaining secrecy over internal affairs and potential targets prone to attack by outside forces are utterly important for protecting waterworks. “Responsible waterworks managers know about the security loopholes vulnerable to terrorist attacks and seek to eliminate them, if necessary also by drawing on support from trade associations,” says Karl Rohrhofer.

He is convinced that an ISO approach to terrorism is of no use for these stakeholders. The ones that do benefit from a transparent ISO Standard, he says, are those evil forces that have selected waterworks as a target to see their political demands fulfilled. Why is it that Israel and the United States, backed by a number of European partners, favour the ISO approach to promote security in waterworks?

Karl Rohrhofer believes that because ISO is much more in the public limelight, this approach has been chosen to exert indirect pressure on water utility managers, urging them to employ private security experts, acquire new security technology, and the like. Since many of the companies specialising in this industry are based in Israel and the United States (and Great Britain), it is not unlikely that this could be the hidden motive.

If so, then ISS and their US (and other) allies will also have to accept being criticised for trying to abuse the reputed International Standards Organization. Considering all the stage thunder and internal arrangements seeking to prevent an ISO Work Item (most recently at the CEN Meeting in Berlin), the final results of the ISO Plenary Meeting TC 224 in Tokyo in December took many by surprise.

The decision passed was diametrically opposed to the Vienna Agreement, namely to allow that for the first time an ISO and a CEN Work Item are elaborated on the same issue. Observers believe that this outcome stems from a behind-the-scene agreement between Germany and France, which appear to have concocted this peculiar compromise to seal their bond of friendship.

The idea of using an ISO Standard to keep terrorist attacks off water utilities is meanwhile a concept of the past. Thanks to Wolfgang Zerobin, Karl Rohrhofer and Thomas Zenz and their joint efforts, the “War on Terror” item has been eliminated from the ISO Agenda. Karl Rohrhofer, who himself heads several water companies including Ökoreal and GWCC, says: “Water supply is a specially sensitive service of general interest. Although working as a businessman myself, I am entirely against the idea of using terrorist attack scenarios for promoting business!”

(Source: aqua press Int. 4/2007, Mag. Christof Hahn)


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