Maryland industry-government critical infrastructure working group faces difficulties

Published 14 July 2006

Most of the U.S. critical infrastructure is in private hands, so it makes sense to create a structured government-industry collaborative system for dealing with emergencies related to critical infrastructure; trouble is, the kind of information industry participants should share in such an effort is not only helpful in coping with terrorist acts – it is also helpful to one’s competitors

About 80 to 85 percent of the U.S. critical infrastructure is in private hands, but in Maryland 87 percent of the state’s critical infrastructure — nuclear power and chemical plants, banks, utilities, telecommunications companies, and more — is in private hands. The governor’s Office of Homeland Security (OHS) has tapped fifty volunteer businesses from seventeen critical infrastructure sectors to expedite OHS’s access to proprietary information which will be needed during a national or regional emergency.

The private-sector group — known as the Private Sector Work Group — works bimonthly in public-private partnership with the Critical Infrastructure Protection Program task force to resolve issues of exchanging sensitive information and, in time of emergency or shut-down, to convey critical notices securely to authorized area businesses. The process is legally covered by the federal Homeland Security Act of 2002, which, among other things, exempts protected critical infrastructure information from disclosure through federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) filings. Maryland was the first state in the union to be certified as compliant under this law.

There are reservations, however, especially from some participants in the work group who are reluctant to share information which would help in fighting terrorism, but which would also help their competitors as it would reveal infrastructure vulnerabilities. Mel Blizzard of the state office of domestic preparedness and law enforcement liaison says: “I’ll be honest with you,” Blizzard said. “We’re still working out a lot of issues. … One company doesn’t want another company … to know their trade secrets or their vulnerabilities. … We look at issues such as what information we can share and can’t share. We look at it from [inter-sector and] sector-specific [standpoints]. … We’re at a point where some [companies] are [sharing the information].”