Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

December 29, 2005

Good article on infrastructure protection policy

Filed under: Infrastructure Protection — by Christian Beckner on December 29, 2005

A new issue of Homeland Security Affairs, published by the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, was put up on the web last week. Its contents are here. The issue contains several interesting articles, including “Potholes and Detours in the Road to Critical Infrastructure Protection Policy.”

The authors walk through some of the reasons why efforts to improve critical infrastructure protection have been suboptimal, including the lack of standards, the devolution of authority to states and cities, and the difficulty (disputed by the authors) of regulating private sector activity.

The authors’ argument about the need for a federal lead role in critical infrastructure protection due to the distributed and intrastate nature of infrastructure is the strongest section of the piece:

Consider the case of the Alaskan telecommunications sector. Alaska’s telecommunication infrastructure supports local police, fire, and emergency management functions as well as consumer telephone and Internet access. Without it, Alaskans would be isolated from the rest of the United States. Naturally, it makes sense for the Federal government – through the Department of Homeland Security – to provide funding and training to Alaskans so they can strengthen their telecommunications infrastructure and harden it against potential terrorist attacks. However, this strategy is inadequate and dangerous, because Alaska’s telephone and most Internet services are dependent on a single building in Seattle! The Weston building in Seattle is the sixth largest telecom hotel in the nation, and it provides connectivity to the citizens of Alaska. Alaskan’s cannot protect this major asset no mater how much money the Federal Government provides, because it lies outside of their jurisdiction.

In addition to the problem of an asset in one state being critical to another state, there is the overarching problem of Interstate Commerce laws that regulate and shape infrastructures such as telecommunications, energy, power, and transportation. States have little power over the Federal regulators when it comes to passing laws that might affect an element of one of these infrastructures and weaken the same infrastructure at the national level. Examples of this can be found in cross-sector interdependencies. For example, the largest electrical power plant in Missouri (New Madrid) is totally dependent on the rail system that delivers coal from Wyoming. Rail transportation and electrical power sectors are regulated by federal agencies – not Wyoming and Missouri – and yet, a policy that may ensure reliable electric power generation in Missouri could conflict with energy policies affecting Wyoming….

Read the whole thing.

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