Guest post from Brannan Villee, strategic program manager for the Science and Technology Directorate’s (S&T) Critical Infrastructure Security & Resilience Research (CISRR) Program
This time last year, President Biden signed the monumental Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) into law, solidifying the Administration’s commitment to the future of our nation’s critical infrastructure (CI) and strong emphasis on safeguarding its security and resiliency. Our CI is the backbone of life as we know it here in the U.S.—there are, of course, the roads and highways we travel, but also the electric grids that power our lives and livelihoods, the public transit systems that facilitate connection, the cyber networks that enable commerce and communication, and much, much more. IIJA is a long-term investment in the physical and virtual systems that are so vital to our economy, our safety, and our people…and S&T is playing a major role in making sure this investment pays off.
Funded through IIJA, S&T’s CISRR program taps into the latest innovations in science and technology (as our agency name implies) to address key CI needs in five targeted strategic mission areas. We developed a multi-year strategic framework that is now guiding a number of research and development (R&D), testing, and evaluation efforts that are already underway. Let’s take a quick look at some examples of what CISRR is focusing on right now.
Developing Special Event Assessment Ratings (SEAR) Planning Tools: SEAR rating levels help government agencies make sound policy and support decisions, enabling them to plan for everything from chemical attacks to specific threats surrounding major events. Under CISRR, we are developing immersive visualization capabilities and a deployable kit for field personnel to conduct digital surveys of strategic urban sites and locations. The tools, which will leverage the latest in modeling and simulation, will enable DHS agencies and other stakeholders to better evaluate risk and plan responses to blasts, active shooters, and other soft target threats.
Understanding effects of electromagnetic pulse and geo-magnetic disturbance events on communications: Whether caused by man or nature, these events have the potential to cause significant disruption or permanent damage to CI electrical components and systems. CISSR is working to study these effects and provide a detailed baseline report on real-world operating environments to guide future R&D on similar modeling and simulation tools for response planning.
Understanding the impacts of new position, navigation, and timing (PNT) threats: U.S. CI relies on the uninterrupted and accurate nature of PNT capabilities services—disruption or corruption of these services can lead to safety issues or complete system failure throughout infrastructure networks. We are working hand-in-hand with industry not only to understand the landscape of emerging threats, but also to test their existing systems against a number of challenging scenarios to see how they fare. We will then develop common frameworks industry can use to assess vulnerabilities moving forward.
Preventing, responding to, and mitigating soft target attacks in crowded spaces: There are people in the world who may seek to exploit crowded spaces to cause harm to citizens and infrastructure. We are collaborating with a number of public/private partners—including DHS stakeholders, first responders, and community organizations—to study the latest trends in public safety crime prevention and develop resources to help deter bad actors. Among the projects currently underway are data monitoring dashboards; advanced alerting systems; portable solutions to combat the use of vehicles as weapons; new video analytic capabilities; and frameworks for analyzing risks of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive attacks. The goal is to arm emergency responders with information and effective and affordable solutions.
Testing telecommunications and cyber software systems and networks: At the heart of most CI are intricate software systems and networks, both open-source and proprietary, that we heavily rely upon. As we become even more interconnected with the adoption of a growing number of Internet of Things devices, it is more important than ever to secure them from the threat of cyberattacks. In this focus area, we are working with DHS colleagues, industry, and emergency responders on efforts to implement standards-based protocols and solutions to protect our telecommunications networks; secure the firmware of embedded devices in mobile network infrastructure to prevent direct attacks; create a Next-Generation 911 compliance and accreditation program; and develop a framework for securing our emerging digital identity infrastructure—with lots more on the horizon.
This blog post is just a brief introduction to CISRR’s vast mission and portfolio, but I hope it illustrates the big, audacious R&D plans that we have at S&T, as well as across the entire Department of Homeland Security. We may still be in the early days of CISRR R&D but securing our nation’s CI is a truly essential effort that takes whole-of-government determination to become a reality. And we’re in it for the long haul.
Program news will continuously be added to the CISRR website. You can also learn more online about S&T’s commitment to physical and cyber infrastructure resilience and follow @DHSSciTech on social media for updates.