How does one learn the best ways to break into America’s hazardous chemical facilities? From the chemical companies themselves, naturally.

In preparation for his investigation of America’s most dangerous chemical sites, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reporter Carl Prine used “worst case scenario” plans prepared by chemical company officials. The plans, filed with the Environmental Protection Agency and county governments, mapped out known security weaknesses at each plant. Using the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Prine began collecting the plans from the EPA. Then he hit a roadblock: he was told an EPA rule limited his access to plans only from his own county, plus 10 other plans per month. This wouldn’t do. He was casing out hundreds of facilities — in his home state of Pennsylvania and others, including Maryland, Illinois, and Texas. After he maxed out his EPA limit, he was able to get some plans directly from county agencies using state open records laws. But to get plans from other states, Prine went back to the EPA — with a new strategy to get around the 10-plan limit. He hired a secretary in Washington, D.C. to accompany him to EPA headquarters on the first and last days of two months — April 30 and May 1 — and together they were able to request the 32 documents that he needed.

>> Visit the EXPOSÉ website to learn more about Prine’s reporting.

>> Watch the full episode about Prine online: “Think Like a Terrorist (Pt. 1)”

>> Read “Forty-Odd Years of Freedom … Sort of” by Tom Casciato, Exposé’s Executive Producer.

The EXPOSÉ: America’s Investigative Reports series is produced by Thirteen/WNET New York in association with CIR.

Carrie Ching

Carrie Ching is an award-winning, independent multimedia journalist and producer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. For six years, she led digital storytelling projects at the Center for Investigative Reporting as senior multimedia producer. Her multimedia reports have been featured by NPR.org, The Huffington Post, Rolling Stone, Grist, Time.com, Fast Company, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, KQED, PBS NewsHour, Salon.com, Mother Jones, Public Radio International, Poynter, Columbia Journalism Review and many other publications. Her specialty is crafting digital narratives and exploring ways to use video, audio, photography, animation and interactive graphics to push the boundaries of storytelling on the Web, tablets and mobile. Her work has been honored with awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, Investigative Reporters and Editors, Best of the West, the Online News Association, Scripps Howard, The Gracies, and was part of the entry in a Pulitzer-finalist project. Prior to her time at CIR she was a magazine and book editor, video journalist, newspaper reporter and TV comedy scriptwriter. She was on the 2010 Eddie Adams Workshop faculty as a multimedia producer working with MediaStorm to teach digital storytelling techniques to photojournalists. She completed a master’s degree in journalism at UC Berkeley in 2005.