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Critical Infrastructure and the Sandy Hook Tragedy

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As emergency responders and equipment suppliers participate in these debates, I hope they will add their own perspectives about critical infrastructure (a concept most Americans have never heard of) and how to best protect not just property, but human life itself.

Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not reflect or represent the official position of the CBRN Resource Network or the Responder Rundown Newsletter.

December 2012 is Critical Infrastructure Protection and Resilience Month. In a proclamation dated November 30th, President Barak Obama issued a “call upon the people of the United States to recognize the importance of protecting our Nation’s resources and to observe this month with appropriate events and training to enhance our national security and resilience.”

From cyber incidents to natural disasters, the threats we face are both serious and numerous. “All Americans,” President Obama continued, “have a part to play in protecting our critical infrastructure and making it more resilient”. Responders know this better than most, of course, and regularly attend training and events that help them protect their local communities and America’s critical infrastructure.

Schools as Critical Infrastructure?

As the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) website explains, “critical infrastructure is the backbone of our Nation’s economy, security and health” and includes various types of physical and virtual assets. Protecting and ensuring these assets isn’t just about “national security” or “economic vitality”, however. Critical infrastructure protection also means “public health and safety” and protecting “our way of life”.

To date, DHS has identified 18 critical infrastructure sectors. Examples include commercial facilities and nuclear reactors. Educational institutions are not on that list.

The Sandy Hook Tragedy

In the middle of Critical Infrastructure Protection and Resilience Month, 26 people were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, CT. Twenty of the victims were children – the very future of our Nation and its most precious resource. Until Sandy Hook, the Virginia Tech Massacre had been the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.

Today, America is still learning the details of how Adam Lanza gained forcible entry into an elementary school that seemed secure enough with its recently-installed access-control system. Until the December 14th shooting, residents of Newton, CT even regarded their rural New England town as “the safest place in America”.

In the aftermath of this latest school shooting, some now maintain that “there is no safe place in America”. Predictably, pundits and politicians will offer policy prescriptions ranging from gun bans to gun control, and from better treatment for mental illness to forcible confinement of the mentally ill. These debates will play out in the editorial pages of newspapers – and on Facebook pages – for weeks and months to come.


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