Using emergency alerting systems to protect the U.S. critical infrastructure // by Simon Berman

Published 24 April 2008

Learning from the experiences of the U.S. Department of Defense

Because it works so well, we tend to take America’s critical infrastructure for granted. Day after day, our telecommunication networks, roads, refineries, airports, seaports, and energy systems quietly support the many needs of the growing U.S. population. This web of facilities and networks affects everything from our drinking water to our banking system. Although this infrastructure is by and large reliable, disruptions and breakdowns can and have happened. When they do, the consequences can be catastrophic. One only needs to recall the devastation of hurricane Katrina as evidence of this claim. That systems and facilities fail due to accidents or natural phenomena is nothing new. What is new is the increasing threat of a deliberate attack as a cause of that failure.

More than 90 percent of this nation’s critical infrastructure is owned and operated by private entities. For these organizations, protecting their assets from a coordinated hostile attack is a new domain, one in which they have little experience. The question is, who does have such experience? The answer — the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). DoD is a valuable source for accumulated experience protecting critical infrastructure. Private organizations can learn lessons from the DoD because it has invested heavily in identifying, testing, and deploying physical security systems to protect its assets from attacks and natural disasters. It has done the research and learned from direct, real-world experiences.


A case in point: Emergency alerting proves critical for the DoD
As an example of what can be learned from DoD, consider what private industry can discover from one Navy study. The Office of Naval Research, as part of its public safety investment strategy, conducted a study of more than twenty security-related technologies to identify which had the largest return on investment. The top two items on the list were decision-making systems and emergency alerting. Dollar for dollar, these investments demonstrated the largest impact on safety.

Private organizations can rely on this type of research to help prioritize their budget allocations regarding infrastructure protection. They can make sound security decisions knowing that significant research has already been conducted about the issues they are currently evaluating. Any organization looking to protect itself should look closely at both decision-support systems and emergency alerting as part of their strategy, though this article will focus on the latter of the two technologies.

Emergency alerting, the second item on the Navy’s list of most effective forms of public safety technologies, gives