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  1. Science and Technology Directorate
  2. News Room
  3. Protecting Our Critical Infrastructure During Uncertain Times

Protecting Our Critical Infrastructure During Uncertain Times

Release Date: November 1, 2023

Throughout November, the Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) will commemorate Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience Month with updates here on our website, on social media, and through our Technologically Speaking podcast. Season 3 launches today, and we are excited to present a holistic look at S&T’s portfolio of infrastructure-related research and development efforts over the next 10 weeks. I encourage you to subscribe and dive right in with today’s episode, ‘A Cat and Mouse Game,’ which offers a compelling look at S&T’s cybersecurity infrastructure agenda with Donald Coulter of our Technology Centers.  

The timing of this year’s monthlong spotlight on our nation’s critical infrastructure is especially significant. Between ongoing severe weather events affecting the nation (and our neighbors to the south), a resurgence of COVID-19, the looming threat of a government shutdown, and more, now is the time to turn research into action.  

Below are a few examples of how we do our part to protects our nation’s critical infrastructure from threats—both current and future—by developing and deploying innovative technology solutions.

Securing Our Infrastructure Against Cyberattacks

In addition to what you’ll hear about in this week’s podcast, S&T is developing and testing new technologies and tools designed to combat cyberattacks and their potential effects. One is a digital security framework for mobile driver’s licenses, which we will also cover on the podcast this season. S&T’s Biometric and Identity Technology Center is partnering with the Transportation Security Administration and National Institute of Standards and Technology to create guidelines and regulations that enable the Department of Homeland Security to implement a secure digital identity ecosystem that facilitates the nationwide use and acceptance of mobile driver’s licenses.

S&T’s Critical Infrastructure Security & Resilience Research Program (CISRR) is collaborating with several government and laboratory partners on Critical-infrastructure Hardening Achieved Through Risk-reduction in Informational and Operational Technology, or CHARIOT, a project devoted to developing at-scale platforms for freight rail, and oil and natural gas pipelines. The platforms will test potential cyber threat-based scenarios that could disrupt system operations, identify potential vulnerabilities in relevant hardware and software components, evaluate new technologies being integrated into our transportation infrastructure, and develop mitigation strategies to harden these systems and components against potential cyberattacks.

Strengthening Our Anti-terrorism Initiatives

Preventing domestic terrorism is a cornerstone of our mission. As part of our efforts to deploy tools that keep us all safe, S&T’s Physical Security program tested two cutting-edge security systems during the 2023 National Football League (NFL) Draft held at Union Station in Kansas City, Missouri, back in April (we have a podcast episode about this, too).

The CISRR-funded systems—the Ready Armor Protection for Instant Deployment Barrier and Deployable Expedient Traffic Entry Regulator—were deployed to help the NFL and local law enforcement protect the venue and event attendees from potential attacks via improvised explosive devices and vehicles. This live assessment provided valuable data to our team and will help us improve these systems in the near future.

Protecting Our Critical Infrastructure from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) and Geomagnetic Disturbances (GMD)  

S&T is helping critical infrastructure owners and operators mitigate the effects of and recover from EMP/GMD events. One way we are doing this is through research to harden 4G and 5G communication infrastructure, assessing and evaluating the potential impacts of these events on our towers and antennas. Findings from these studies will empower owners and operators with crucial information regarding existing vulnerabilities and offer recommendations, best practices, and technology solutions that can better protect their 4G and 5G towers and antennas from potential EMP/GMD events.

Another way we do this within our own DHS family is by using EMP-protected shelters to protect the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Integrated Public Alert & Warning System (IPAWS) and its communications infrastructure. There are 77 IPAWS shelters nationwide.

Adapting to Our Changing Environment

As global temperatures rise, the frequency and severity of weather events have also been escalating. S&T is working to meet the challenges brought on by our changing environment through efforts like the Exploitation of Mesonets for emergency Preparedness and response in Weather Extremes Research initiative, or EMPOWER. EMPOWER is a pilot program supporting emergency providers that respond to weather-related disasters. It will integrate and leverage state-of-the-art analytics, real-time localized weather data, critical infrastructure lifelines, social vulnerability data, and novel visualization capabilities to provide responders with real-time assessments of changing weather conditions and potential impacts on communities and critical infrastructure.

Understanding and Improving the Safety of our Waterways

Our nation is surrounded by thousands of miles of shoreline and waterways. To ensure the safety of those who pass through these waters, S&T’s Critical Infrastructure Resilience Institute Center of Excellence is assessing the efficacy of various navigation aids like buoys, beacons, and ranges that are used to mark shipping lanes, potential hazards, and protected areas in and around our shorelines, waterways, and seaports. This study is the first of its kind and will quantify the effectiveness and continuing necessity of these tools, especially as reliance on global positioning systems and other electronic navigation technologies has increased in recent years.

Protecting our nation’s critical infrastructure is an ongoing endeavor, and we will continue to do all we can to keep our critical infrastructure, and the communities that depend on them, safe, secure, and resilient.

Visit our Research and Development pages for even more examples of S&T’s ongoing work and follow us on social media @DHSSciTech.

Last Updated: 11/07/2023
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