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Wastewater facilities provide essential services to residential, commercial, and industrial users, yet they may possess certain characteristics that terrorists could exploit to impair the wastewater treatment process or to damage surrounding infrastructure. For example, large underground collector sewers could be accessed by terrorists for purposes of placing destructive devices beneath buildings or city streets. GAO was asked to determine (1) what federal statutory authorities and directives govern the protection of wastewater treatment facilities from terrorist attack, (2) what steps critical wastewater facilities have taken since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, (9/11) to ensure that potential vulnerabilities are addressed, and (3) what steps the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have taken to help these facilities in their efforts to address such vulnerabilities.

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Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Environmental Protection Agency 1. The Administrator of EPA should work with DHS and the Water Sector Coordinating Council to identify areas where the WaterISAC and HSIN networks could be better coordinated, focusing in particular on (1) how operational duplications and overlap could be addressed, and (2) how water systems' access to timely security threat information could be improved. EPA should also work with DHS and the Water Sector Coordinating Council to identify realistic time frames for the completion of these tasks.
Closed - Implemented
At EPA's direction, the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, which operates the Water Information Sharing and Analysis Center (WaterISAC) with a grant from EPA, completed an evaluation and recommended that WaterISAC adopt components of the Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN) and incorporate them into WaterISAC. The incorporation of these components has included the expansion of the WaterISAC to other critical interdependent sectors and, within the WaterISAC, establishment of a link from WaterISAC to HSIN and maintenance of highly sensitive and analyst-originated information. According to EPA, these actions have improved access to timely and authoritative security threat information.

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