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DHS study: CEOs need to do more for infrastructure security

An advisory group to the president and Homeland Security is recommending chief officers from industries like telecommunications work more closely with the government on security.

The government has made great strides working with private industry to secure the nation's critical infrastructure, an advisory board to the president and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said Tuesday, but top executives in the private sector need to step up and do more.

homeland security

With infrastructure like electric grids, water, and telecommunications largely in the hands on private industry, it is up to the leaders in those sectors to work with government to keep the country safe--yet the participation of chief executives in such efforts has steadily waned since September 11, 2001, according to a working group of the National Infrastructure Advisory Council. The NIAC is made up of representatives from government, academia, and private industry.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who joined a meeting of the NIAC on Tuesday via phone, said cooperation with industry was especially important given the "emerging issue" of cybersecurity.

"We all understand virtually every sector of our economy is dependent on cybersecurity," he said. "The president's (cybersecurity) strategy is going to be a very high priority."

A working group of the NIAC presented a study (PDF) Tuesday to the rest of the council recommending the DHS enhance its model for partnering with the private sector by adding a requirement of participation from senior chief executives.

"A lot of participation (from private industry executives) that was helpful to the government was worn down over time, either by repetitive requests or by process."
--Alfred Berkeley, NIAC vice chair and CEO of Pipeline Trading

"A lot of participation (from private industry executives) that was helpful to the government was worn down over time, either by repetitive requests or by process," said Alfred Berkeley, NIAC vice chair and CEO of Pipeline Trading.

He said the council's working group recommended a level of "scaleable engagement" from executives so they stay involved but are not required to make unrealistic commitments to infrastructure security planning.

"When something important comes along, they'll be able to be engaged easily and quickly," he said.

Industry leaders should also take the lead in engaging with the new administration in the coming months, Berkeley said. Even so, the next administration will also have to devote senior leadership to the cause, "if they want senior people on the other side of the table," he said.

The NIAC continues to work on other studies on how to better protect critical infrastructure and on Tuesday approved the creation of a new working group to study the nation's strategy for resiliency and reaction in the face of an emergency.

Yet another working group Tuesday presented the progress it has made in an assessment (PDF) of cross-sector interdependencies. The working group plans to hold a workshop in November to examine two emergency scenarios in which the government and industry would have to cope with a loss of services.

The first scenario that government and industry representatives will address will be that of an accident that shuts down power in the Washington area for two weeks. The second scenario will be an attack on the electrical grid that shuts down the greater Washington, D.C. metropolitan area for three weeks. Either scenario would necessarily affect more than just the electric sector.

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, who discussed the workshop before the council, said one factor that will be considered at the workshop will be the legal limitations on government and industry leaders to make executive decisions during emergencies.

"I know as a governor" what those limitations are, Pawlenty said, "but I don't know if we've ever had a thorough review from top to bottom of what that would mean."