The Tampa Tribune
By Will Rodgers
Published January 13, 2004
Antiterrorism officers armed with 9 mm handguns, AR-15 semiautomatic rifles and 12-gauge shotguns now patrol power plants at Tampa Electric Co.
The specially trained security force of about 32 began guarding the utility’s Big Bend, Gannon/Bayside and Polk power stations and other facilities Sunday night to ensure the lights stay on in the company’s 2,000 square-mile territory in Hillsborough County and parts of Pinellas, Pasco and Polk counties. They will be deployed around the clock.
Tampa Electric spokesman Ross Bannister said the heightened security is a result of a greater emphasis on protecting the company’s infrastructure rather than any specific threats.
“The point is we have not received any specific threats to our employees or assets” Bannister said. “But because Tampa Electric is a part of the critical infrastructure of the community, the security operation is imperative.”
In August, Tampa Electric hired corporate security consultant Critical Intervention Services Inc. of Clearwater to assess the utility’s vulnerability to terrorism. After evaluating the report from CIS, the utility decided an armed force would be appropriate to protect Tampa Electric’s vital power generating resources.
Craig S. Gundry, CIS vice president for special projects, said computer modeling showed a blackout caused by an attack on Tampa Electric could have significant effect on the Tampa Bay economy, with losses as high as $600 million for each day electricity is down.
Bannister declined to cite specific figures on how much Tampa Electric spends on security. But, he said, Tampa Electric did not increase the budget to pay for the study or armed officers. Also, the upgraded security will not affect consumers’ bills, he said.
Karl C. “K.C.” Poulin, CIS president and chief executive officer, applauded Tampa Electric management for plugging vulnerabilities that his company identified in the assessment.
Gundry would not discuss what the assessment revealed as potential security problems for Tampa Electric, but said the security department at TECO Energy Inc., the parent of Tampa Electric, immediately recognized the need for improvements.
“They assumed it as their responsibility and they moved on it,” he said.
New federal guidelines require armed guards at nuclear facilities, but not at other power plants, energy control centers, substations and other critical facilities.
Charles Hopkins, president of Utilities Security Group LLC in Birmingham, Ala., a consulting outfit, said other utilities are deploying armed antiterrorism officers at coal-, gas- and oil-fired generating plants.
Hopkins declined to name utilities. Power plants at Alabama Power are patrolled by armed guards, Michael Sznajderman, a spokesman, said.