Food corporations with refrigeration plants that utilize ammonia as the coolant could be targeted by individuals seeking to cause mass casualties. A well-placed vehicle-borne IED (VBIED) has been proven to be a potent weapon of destruction, and in places like Syria, VBEIDs have been paired with other things like chlorine tanks to magnify the lethal effect. Just because we have not had any VBIEDs in the United States since Timothy McVeigh set one off in Oklahoma City in 1995 does not mean we don’t have to be aware.

The situation in the Middle East, particularly in places like Iraq, Syria and Yemen, continues to “evolve,” meaning it is anyone’s guess how things will turn out. The Islamic State (ISIS) is being pressed hard, and reports coming out of Europe indicate former ISIS fighters are returning to their countries of origin as ISIS’ territory shrinks and the battlefield becomes more lethal. Nevertheless, ISIS continues to place trained fighters abroad and encourage and mentor sympathizers around the world. Some terrorists might return to the United States from the war zone, while others might be groomed in place, never leaving the United States before they emerge as a threat.

That means the cold food industry must pay special attention to the evolving security requirements related to critical assets, starting first with limiting access to refrigeration plant areas. Only employees who absolutely need to be there, are thoroughly vetted and have a history with the company should be allowed into critical areas. External threat agents can rapidly become insider threats if the vetting process is incomplete or not properly executed.

Another area of concern is security jobs, particularly those at the guard level, which tend to be low-level, pay minimum wage and are often part-time. Finding personnel to fill these positions is frequently difficult for security companies, giving less reputable companies an incentive to sometimes cut corners when they vet new employees. Unfortunately, security guards have been involved in terrorist activities in multiple places around the world. Employees tend to inherently trust these personnel as representatives of company authority, and since they frequently see them every day, the guards’ presence is not questioned.

This is not meant to put these individuals in a bad light, but to urge all employees to practice due diligence and be situationally aware. Good and reputable security personnel have prevented tragedies many times, often putting their own lives on the line and sometimes even paying the ultimate price. Good security personnel working in tandem with good employees inside any food industry facility provide a rigorous defense against those who pose a threat.

To make the situation even more complex, ISIS developed an aggressive campaign to radicalize children and teens, urging them to remain in their own countries and cause mayhem. In other words, almost anyone could be a threat. Children and teens are very capable of causing injury and death, and atrocities carried out by children are particularly shocking, having the desired psychological effect on the public. Several children in the last few years have been used to carry and detonate IEDs.

ISIS will continue to be a threat for a decade or more, and food company executives must know their facilities could be targets.

DISCLAIMER: Dr. Norton and production of this article were supported by the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station and the Hatch program of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture. The article represents the personal opinion of Dr. Norton and does not reflect official policy or statutory related opinion of the Federal Government, National Institute of Food and Agriculture and/or the U.S. Department of Agriculture.