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Emergency Preparedness in the Digital Age

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Mobola Owolabi
September 18, 2015

When we think of emergency preparedness, cyber security is not the first thing that comes to our minds. We first think of natural disasters, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Guard, the U.S. military and concepts along those lines. Cyber security is a major public policy issue, but it is often overlooked when discussing emergency preparedness.

Since the inception of the Web, individuals have used the Internet to bring us innovative and fresh ideas, while others have used the Internet for malicious and destructive purposes. As technology advances and individuals continue to discover ways to manipulate systems and programs, cyber attacks continue to be a major security threat to the United States. In this digital age, where so much can be manipulated by the stroke of a key or the click of a mouse, is our nation prepared?

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In a White House briefing on foreign policy and cyber security, President Obama stated that, “Cyber threat is one of the most serious economic and national security challenges we face as a nation.” This statement demonstrates why securing our cyber systems has become a matter of national security. A serious cyber-attack could bring devastation to the economic prosperity as well as the critical infrastructure of the United States. The federal government is fully aware of the need to ensure cyberspace is safe for all who use it.

Governments, businesses and individuals are under attack from other governments, criminals and hackers. According to a 2015 Department of Homeland Security, Cyber Security Overview, cyber security is essential to United States’ emergency preparedness. Such attacks increase our risk for wide scale or high-consequence events that could cause widespread harm or disrupt services which our economy and citizens depend on.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is responsible for defending civilian government networks as well as the nation’s critical infrastructure. With cyber intrusions and attacks increasing over the last decade, The Heritage Foundation believes the DHS’s top priorities should be recruiting, training and maintaining a qualified, motivated, dependable and an empowered workforce, as well as helping to facilitate public-private cooperation in order to help fight cyber security threats. Rep. Michael McCual, R-Texas, chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, believes that Congress needs to outline clearly the role of DHS so they can promptly detect, mitigate and respond to cyber intrusions.

The federal government’s role in addressing cyber security is complex because it involves securing federal cyber systems as well as protecting civilian and non-federal cyber systems. Handling cyber operations is a task that requires multidisciplinary efforts. The recent hacks of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the Ashley Madison website demonstrate that our cyber systems are still incredibly vulnerable.

Actively identifying current challenges and vulnerabilities is a vital first step. With the recent hacks in 2015, top government officials, military officials and successful executives are susceptible to blackmail and leaks of personal information falling into the wrong hands. Leaving our cyber systems so vulnerable leaves us open to destructive attacks on our infrastructure, economy and the backbone of our nation. 

According to the 2015 National Preparedness Report, the nation has made significant progress in regards to cyber security efforts. The 2015 National Preparedness Report notes that in 2014, federal agencies and private-sector partners provided updated cyber risk assessments in order to assist stakeholders in health care, financial services and retail sectors assess the probability of cyber-attacks and identify capability gaps. Although many states and jurisdictions still need to improve their cyber security measures, the federal government is working on ways to assist these localities with strong cyber security workforces and training programs on how to secure, identify and monitor cyber threats.

As outlined in the 2015 National Preparedness Report, it is imperative that businesses and public-private partnerships incorporate emergency preparedness procedures into technology platforms. Although government efforts and programs help the agencies, departments and businesses that are tasked with monitoring and securing our cyberspace, these endeavors are only a small piece to the overall puzzle. The threat of cyber-attacks needs to be taken seriously and the appropriate partnerships need to be forged in order to protect our country from massive devastation.  

Author: Mobola Owolabi is currently a senior project manager for the Center of Hospital Innovation and Improvement in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She specializes in various policy and quality improvement projects. Ms. Owolabi holds a bachelor’s degree in organizational communication from Old Dominion University and a Master of Science in Public Policy from Drexel University. Email: [email protected].

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