Statement of Principles on Securing and Protecting Public Utility Infrastructure

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The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) acknowledges the pressing issue of securing public utility infrastructure. Incidents of compromise and vulnerability in this critical sector are a stark reflection of the current state of our nation’s security landscape. Threats to utility infrastructure transcend geographical boundaries, affecting urban, suburban, rural, and small-town communities alike, irrespective of economic status or regionality. These threats span across various facets of utility infrastructure, encompassing power grids, water supply systems, and more. Regrettably, the concern over utility infrastructure security is a shared challenge for all Americans. It is imperative to recognize that while high-impact, mass-scale incidents in this sector are relatively low in probability, their consequences are catastrophic. We have an obligation to protect our critical public utility infrastructure. Therefore, consistent with our mission, we have developed the following principles outlining the priorities and policy considerations for governing the safeguarding of these critical infrastructure assets.  

Statement of Principles on Securing and Protecting Public Utility Infrastructure

(i) Public Utilities are a vital part of our national critical infrastructure. Public utilities play a fundamental role in providing essential services and are vital components of our nation’s energy grid, facilitating the generation, transmission, and distribution of electricity to homes, businesses, and government assets. The security of these facilities is crucial for various reasons, including but not limited to National Security, Public Safety, Economic Stability, Infrastructure Resilience, and even Environmental Protection. Nationally, there are roughly 1,600 electric utility companies providing power to more than 140 million customers and nearly 2,000 public utility districts serving over 45 million people. Ensuring the Security and reliability of our public utilities is of paramount importance. We recognize the value and critical importance of public utility infrastructure in the United States for the well-being of our communities and the functionality of our nation.

(ii) Threats to public utility infrastructure are threats to U.S. National and Homeland Security.

Public Utilities are increasingly becoming targets for malicious actors seeking to disrupt power supplies and critical infrastructure. A successful attack on these facilities could have far-reaching consequences, affecting national security, the economy, general public safety, and the functionality of our communities. According to a report by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, there were nearly 1,700 physical security incidents across the United States in 2022 alone. These incidents include vandalism, theft, suspicious activity, threats, and trespassing. Between 2010 and 2016, the number of incidents reported to the U.S. department of Homeland Security (DHS) increased sixfold with the energy sector being the third most targeted industry accounting for 20% of the reported incidents in 2016.

We recognize that by encouraging and incentivizing the implementation of robust security measures, including procedures and innovative technologies, we can reduce the vulnerability of these critical assets from a unique threat landscape.

(iii) Threats to public utility infrastructure are threats to the United States’ Economic Stability

Disruptions to public utility services and functionality can result in significant economic losses and security vulnerabilities. Businesses, industries, and essential services rely heavily on a continuous and reliable power and water supply. Securing public utilities helps maintain economic stability and national security by preventing interruptions in power delivery. According to a report by the University of Cambridge Centre of Risk Studies and Lloyd’s of London, an attack on the U.S. power grid could result in economic losses ranging from $61 billion to $223 billion depending on the number of impacted assets and stations.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Department of Energy, and Department of Defense are publicly concerned about protecting critical infrastructure with a heavy focus on the U.S. energy grid. The threat landscape for utility assets consists primarily of cybersecurity and/or physical attacks by terrorists (domestic or foreign) as well as vandals. According to a report by POLITCO, physical and computerized assaults on the equipment that delivers public utilities are at the highest levels level since 2012.

We recognize the threat to our nation’s economic stability and world standing when public utility infrastructure sites are left vulnerable and unsecure.

(iv) Public Utility Infrastructure Resiliency

In the face of natural disasters or other emergencies and threats, public utilities must continue to operate. Security measures, including disaster preparedness, recovery plans, and the implementation of innovative security technologies collectively enhance the resiliency of these facilities, ensuring they can withstand and recover from adverse events-whether from an intentional actor intending harm, natural disasters, or even negligence and failures of systems.

(v) Public Utility Security is also Environmental Protection

We recognize that electric substations often house equipment containing hazardous materials. Effective security measures protect against unauthorized access, reducing the risk of environmental contamination and harm to surrounding public and private property and ecosystems.

 (vi) Security Technology

As technology evolves, so do the methods used by potential adversaries. Continual investment in security measures and the adaptation of best practices are essential to keep pace with emerging threats. Furthermore, incentives and/or requirements for enhanced security measures protecting utility stations and assets should be strongly considered.

(vii) Collaboration

The security of public utilities is a shared responsibility. Collaboration among government agencies, critical infrastructure and public utility operators, law enforcement, private sector security and technology professionals, and the public is critical to identifying risks, implementing security measures and technologies, and responding to incidents effectively and safely.

We recognize that where appropriate, state’s should defer to the private sector to determine the best and most appropriate solutions for public utilities while maintaining a collaborative effort with law enforcement at all levels and jurisdictions.

 (viii) Conclusion

The security of public utilities and electric substations is not just a matter of policy; it is a fundamental necessity for U.S. Homeland Security. By upholding these principles, we commit to safeguarding our critical infrastructure, protecting our communities, and ensuring the uninterrupted flow of essential services that underpin our economy, national defense and security, and modern way of life.