Designating schools as critical infrastructure could help keep students safe

Designating colleges as crucial infrastructure may assist hold college students secure

The horrific assault towards The Covenant College in Nashville is the newest in a chilling sample of assaults towards Okay-12 colleges over the previous a number of years. Whereas it’s tough to establish a single issue accountable for these numerous incidents, the identical mixture of people with entry to high-capacity firearms and private grievances, troubled histories and sure psychological well being issues appears to suit the sample seen with different tragic occasions over the previous decade. 

The nation appears unable to seek out working options to handle these elements of the varsity taking pictures phenomenon. However one concept that has not but been translated into motion is to designate kindergarten-12 colleges in america as crucial infrastructure and to bolster the flexibility of the Division of Homeland Safety (DHS) to hold out its mission. 

DHS was created in 2002 in response to the 9/11 terrorist assaults, and with that got here a serious concentrate on the hardening of crucial infrastructure all through the U.S. Whereas the U.S. authorities had acknowledged the significance of crucial infrastructure safety in the course of the Nineties, these efforts had been nonetheless within the phases of early improvement then, and it took the shock of 9/11 to catalyze the next degree of focus, which has performed out over the past 20 years. 

Within the early days, DHS sought to intensify bodily safety measures in weak industries and sectors corresponding to nuclear energy, power, water, telecommunications, banking and finance. That resulted in complete assessments of those efforts in paperwork referred to as Nationwide Infrastructure Safety Plans. Measures ranged from establishing perimeter fences, safety cameras, armed guards, strong website safety plans, coaching and workout routines and different practices designed to make it more durable for decided attackers to focus on these services. 

The division continued to construct out the framework of crucial infrastructure and concentrate on bodily safety measures. And, within the aftermath of a collection of cyber breaches and assaults within the 2010s, it additionally started to intensify its consideration on cybersecurity and the intersection of the bodily and cyber worlds in relation to infrastructure safety. 

The creation of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Safety Company (CISA) in 2018 as a part of DHS allowed for the consolidation of various crucial infrastructure applications and actions in a single central group that reported on to the DHS secretary, a change from earlier years. 

At the moment inside CISA, Okay-12 safety rests inside a sub-unit within the Infrastructure Safety Division referred to as the College Security Activity Pressure. The Activity Pressure has taken on a number of duties in the direction of the aim of strengthening security at Okay-12 colleges all through the nation. However now can be a perfect time to offer severe consideration to increasing this effort inside CISA by creating a wholly new division on college security, or by designating Okay-12 services in america as a standalone crucial infrastructure sector. Because it stands, none of the present sectors overtly align with college security issues.

Designating Okay-12 colleges as a definite crucial infrastructure sector would permit greater ranges of DHS-backed funding, coaching, experience and help to services that strengthen safety and both deter would-be attackers sooner or later or decrease the risk they pose in the event that they try assaults. Efforts like CISA’s State and Native Cybersecurity Grant Program may present a mannequin for the way this may be replicated with Okay-12 colleges, though this might be far-ranging in scope and tough at some ranges to implement, with uneven ranges of success in this system’s preliminary part. 

DHS must work with Congress to regulate its funds for such a brand new initiative. However the excellent news is that the DHS secretary possesses the authority to designate sectors as crucial infrastructure. Given this flexibility, and with bipartisan help from Congress, such a transfer may begin to pay dividends and finally forestall future Okay-12 college assaults.

Javed Ali is an affiliate professor of apply on the College of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford College of Public Coverage. He has greater than 20 years {of professional} expertise in Washington, D.C., on nationwide safety points, together with roles on the Division of Homeland Safety, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Workplace of the Director of Nationwide Intelligence and Nationwide Safety Council.  

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