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December 17, 2012

We Must Address Aging Infrastructure to Stay Secure and Resilient, Says DHS Deputy Undersecretary Spaulding

When people typically think of “infrastructure,” they often picture roads and bridges. But before travelling away from home, people interact with different parts of a functioning infrastructure such as water access, sewage collection and electricity.

Yet some parts of this infrastructure remain outdated or unprepared for modern-day challenges, and the need for increased protection will intensify, said Suzanne Spaulding, the deputy undersecretary for the National Protection and Programs Directorate at the Department of Homeland Security. Spaulding delivered keynote remarks at a breakfast meeting hosted by the ABA Standing Committee on Law and National Security in Washington D.C., and discussed how to take advantage of opportunities to protect critical infrastructure and adapt to changing conditions.

In order to build an infrastructure for the future to keep systems safe from extreme weather, cybersecurity and other safety concerns, Spaulding emphasized that public and private entities should prepare effectively.

“We really need to remember that we are here to protect against and build resilience in the face of all hazards, physical and cyber, naturally occurring and manmade,” said Spaulding.

Although the damage from infrastructure failures, natural disasters or terrorist attacks can be devastating, Spaulding encourages governments, companies and other organizations to focus on building an infrastructure to withstand all threats.

“We’re now helping folks think about how to reconcile their urgent need to rebuild, which hasn’t happened very quickly, with the need to be smart,” said Spaulding. “And to rebuild not exactly the same, but in a way that is sustainable and recognizes the changing world in which we live, as well as the threat of extreme weather.”

Spaulding also explained the potential for cascading effects on other functioning systems.

“What is the impact of power loss on the water system? What is the impact of a failure of our water system on continuity of business across the board? What are the cross-dependencies with regards to transportation? Some of these are obvious but a lot of them are not,” said Spaulding. “So we work with the private-sector folks a great deal on trying to understand how all these things work together.”

Stakeholders are also examining the Internet’s impact. With hackers, computer viruses and other malicious software, cyberattacks are increasingly a threat to infrastructure. These attacks cause widespread destruction and confusion, and the perpetrators have the ability to permeate network security from anywhere in the world.

“You cannot have effective physical security without effective cybersecurity,” warned Spaulding. “The operating systems that run those machines and systems are increasingly vulnerable to cyberattack.”

Spaulding urged the private sector to acknowledge their vulnerabilities to government entities so that they can work together to address them. By speaking out, companies can improve their industry environment and provide increased return on investment at the same time. Spaulding reported that businesses and industries that have openly discussed their threats and vulnerabilities found it “tremendously valuable.”

For video of Spaulding’s full remarks, click here.

Learn More About:  National Security Law