Influenza Pandemic: Opportunities Exist to Address Critical Infrastructure Protection Challenges That Require Federal and Private Sector Coordination

GAO-08-36 Published: Oct 31, 2007. Publicly Released: Oct 31, 2007.
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An outbreak of pandemic flu would require close cooperation between the public and private sectors to ensure the protection of our nation's critical infrastructure, such as drinking water and electricity. Because over 85 percent of the nation's critical infrastructure is owned and operated by the private sector, it is vital that both sectors effectively coordinate to successfully protect these assets. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is responsible for coordinating a national protection strategy and government and private sector councils have been created as a collaborating tool. GAO was asked to assess how the federal and private sectors are working together at a national level to protect the nation's critical infrastructure in the event of a pandemic, the challenges they face, and opportunities for addressing these challenges. GAO reviewed 5 of the 17 critical infrastructure sectors. These 5 sectors are energy (electricity), food and agriculture, telecommunications, transportation (highway and motor carrier), and water.

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Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Homeland Security To help the nation better protect critical infrastructure in the event of an influenza pandemic and to build on the progress made thus far, the Secretary of Homeland Security, working with sector-specific agencies, should lead efforts to encourage the government and private sector members of the councils to consider and help address the challenges that will require coordination between the federal and private sectors involved with critical infrastructure and within the various sectors in advance of, as well as during, a pandemic.
Closed – Implemented
In an interview with DHS's Assistant Secretary and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Infrastructure Protection on July 30, 2012, the officials stated that DHS has addressed our recommendation that it consider and help address the challenges that will require coordination between the federal and private sectors for a pandemic by taking several actions. First, DHS has worked with each of the critical infrastructure sectors--including the energy, food and agriculture, telecommunications, transportation, and water sectors to develop sector-specific guidance on pandemic influenza preparedness. Although critical infrastructure was not affected during the H1N1 pandemic because the pandemic was not as severe as it could have been, the sector-specific guides were also updated in September and October of 2009 after the H1N1 pandemic. In reviewing this guidance, we found that it addressed a number of the coordination challenges we identified in our report-including (1) clarifying federal and state roles and responsibilities, (2) identifying and developing strategies for addressing crucial cross-sector interdependencies, and (3) identifying additional investments needed for training and infrastructure. In addition, DHS has offered a series of webinars to the sectors on topics related to pandemic preparedness (including topics related to the coordination challenges we identified) such as partnering for critical infrastructure preparedness and critical infrastructure resilience. DHS officials said that they continue to rely on the critical infrastructure coordinating councils to collaborate with other federal agencies, state and local governments and the private sector on issues related to pandemic influenza, such as preparedness and response to an anthrax outbreak.

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