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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

CISA’s Brian Harrell Focuses on Building Culture of Resiliency, One Threat at a Time

On the heels of a “bomb cyclone” that slammed the Missouri River Basin with catastrophic flooding and more than a billion dollars in damage, Brian Harrell heads for Nebraska. The mission of the assistant secretary for infrastructure protection is to visit various critical sectors – from public and private electric utility plants to chemical plants – and to discuss with federal and state emergency management leaders the devastation of the recent severe flooding, address security at a chemical facility, and meet with the Nebraska State Police.

“Today I was able to witness the flooding devastation in Nebraska firsthand,” Harrell told Homeland Security Today on Thursday, adding that his department, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), “is dedicated to providing assistance, expertise, and assessments to our dams, utilities, chemical plants, and infrastructure owners and operators in Nebraska.”

Flooding in Nebraska March 2019 DHS photo

Marshaling CISA resources includes being in the field from Day One, coordinating with the Federal Emergency Management Agency on aid, and dispatching protective security advisors to work with impacted critical infrastructure companies on the ground in Omaha and Lincoln.

“I viewed the destruction on the Platte and Missouri rivers, met with first responders and emergency managers at the Emergency Operations Center (EOC), and engaged the Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) as they worked hard to restore transmission and distribution lines in their 13-county service territory,” Harrell said. “Resilient infrastructure, across all critical life-line sectors, is what will help us quickly respond and recover from events such as the historic flooding that we witnessed in Nebraska.”

“As the floodwaters recede, we must be mindful that the Missouri and Mississippi rivers pose the greatest threat for moderate to major flooding throughout the spring, which will likely impact essential services,” he added.

All in a few days’ work. And there’s so much more to do.

After the March 15 mosque attacks in New Zealand, CISA issued warnings to U.S. religious institutions “that we face an uncertain threat environment that reaches even into the most holy of places.” DHS liaisons are on high alert as recent attacks against houses of worship have hit both those of the Jewish faith in the U.S. and the Muslim faith in Christchurch.

Yet the threats – in addition to the successful attacks – are mounting and CISA can’t be everywhere.

So Harrell – now four months on the job – and the others in the infrastructure protection office work steadily to implement and execute Presidential Policy Directive 21 (PPD-21): Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience, which was released in 2013 and identifies the nation’s 16 critical infrastructure sectors along with plans to protect them. Each segment of critical infrastructure is headed by a “coordinating council” run by the complementary agency in the federal government.

Harrell, appointed by President Trump in December, assumed the job of being responsible for the nation’s infrastructure at a perilous time in history: the number and severity of natural disasters is increasing along with threats posed by man.

Flooding in Nebraska March 2019 DHS photo

His job is incredibly difficult – not only because of the vastness of the nation’s critical infrastructure and the variety of threats against it, but because the government controls virtually none of it. Owners and operators of critical infrastructure are for the most part private-sector companies who are responsible for the security and delivery of the nation’s power, water, chemicals and more.

Fortunately, Information Sharing and Analysis Centers (ISACs) have been formed in many sectors to share threat information to prevent and mitigate an attack. Public-private partnerships have sprung up all around the country to help government and industry work together to prevent, protect, and respond to any type of disaster. After the Christchurch mosque shooting, CISA worked with the Faith-Based Information Sharing and Analysis Organization (FB-ISAO) to disseminate information on how domestic religious institutions should assess security.

Harrell approaches this responsibility with fresh zeal and transparency. “I believe it will take our entire community to protect the nation and its assets. We all need to understand the threats and how we can protect ourselves and our community from tragedy,” he said in an exclusive interview with Homeland Security Today.

This spirit of outreach is core to the Department of Homeland Security’s effort to drive a “whole of society” approach to combating threats, as described by Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen in this month’s State of Homeland Security Address.

When it was the National Protection and Programs Directorate, CISA launched National Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience Month to raise awareness every November about the joint responsibilities to protect the nation’s assets.

But DHS’ efforts to protect the nation have increasingly focused on resilience. Like FEMA’s focus on resilience and preparedness, so too has CISA focused attention on how we all must work as a whole community to protect ourselves, our families and others.

The department has recognized that the protection of our homeland is a job for everyone. The “first responders” are in our communities – they are our neighbors; they are us. You could save dozens of lives by reporting that suspicious bag. You could stop an attack on a facility by recognizing something odd. You could stop an insider threat breach by recognizing out-of-the-ordinary behavior.

DHS has recognized that, to truly protect the nation, every single citizen must understand their part in the security chain.

Kristina Tanasichuk
Kristina Tanasichuk
From terrorism to the homeland security business enterprise, for over 20 years Kristina Tanasichuk has devoted her career to educating and informing the homeland community to build avenues for collaboration, information sharing, and resilience. She has worked in homeland security since 2002 and has founded and grown some of the most renowned organizations in the field. Prior to homeland she worked on critical infrastructure for Congress and for municipal governments in the energy sector and public works. She has 25 years of lobbying and advocacy experience on Capitol Hill on behalf of non- profit associations, government clients, and coalitions. In 2011, she founded the Government & Services Technology Coalition, a non-profit member organization devoted to the missions of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and all the homeland disciplines. GTSC focuses on developing and nurturing innovative small and mid-sized companies (up to $1 billion) working with the Federal government. GTSC’s mission is to increase collaboration, information exchange, and constructive problem solving around the most challenging homeland security issues facing the nation. She acquired Homeland Security Today (www.HSToday.us) in 2017 and has since grown readership to over one million hits per month and launched and expanded a webinar program to law enforcement across the US, Canada, and international partners. Tanasichuk is also the president and founder of Women in Homeland Security, a professional development organization for women in the field of homeland security. As a first generation Ukrainian, she was thrilled to join the Advisory Board of LABUkraine in 2017. The non-profit initiative builds computer labs for orphanages in Ukraine and in 2018 built the first computer lab near Lviv, Ukraine. At the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, she worked with the organization to pivot and raise money for Ukrainian troop and civilian needs. She made several trips to Krakow, Poland to bring vital supplies like tourniquets and water filters to the front lines, and has since continued fundraising and purchasing drones, communications equipment, and vehicles for the war effort. Most recently she was named as the Lead Advisor to the First US-Ukraine Freedom Summit, a three-day conference and fundraiser to support the rehabilitation and reintegration of Ukrainian war veterans through sports and connection with U.S. veterans. She served as President and Executive Vice President on the Board of Directors for the InfraGard Nations Capital chapter, a public private partnership with the FBI to protect America’s critical infrastructure for over 8 years. Additionally, she served on the U.S. Coast Guard Board of Mutual Assistance and as a trustee for the U.S. Coast Guard Enlisted Memorial Foundation. She graduated from the Drug Enforcement Agency’s and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Citizens’ Academies, in addition to the Marine Corps Executive Forum. Prior to founding the Government Technology & Services Coalition she was Vice President of the Homeland Security & Defense Business Council (HSDBC), an organization for the largest corporations in the Federal homeland security market. She was responsible for thought leadership and programs, strategic partnerships, internal and external communications, marketing and public affairs. She managed the Council’s Executive Brief Series and strategic alliances, as well as the organization’s Thought Leadership Committee and Board of Advisors. Prior to this, she also founded and served for two years as executive director of the American Security Challenge, an event that awarded monetary and contractual awards in excess of $3.5 million to emerging security technology firms. She was also the event director for the largest homeland security conference and exposition in the country where she created and managed three Boards of Advisors representing physical and IT security, first responders, Federal, State and local law enforcement, and public health. She crafted the conference curriculum, evolved their government relations strategy, established all of the strategic partnerships, and managed communications and media relations. Tanasichuk began her career in homeland security shortly after September 11, 2001 while at the American Public Works Association. Her responsibilities built on her deep understanding of critical infrastructure issues and included homeland security and emergency management issues before Congress and the Administration on first responder issues, water, transportation, utility and public building security. Prior to that she worked on electric utility deregulation and domestic energy issues representing municipal governments and as professional staff for the Chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Energy & Commerce. Tanasichuk has also worked at the American Enterprise Institute, several Washington, D.C. associations representing both the public and private sectors, and the White House under President George H.W. Bush. Tanasichuk also speaks extensively representing small and mid-sized companies and discussing innovation and work in the Federal market at the IEEE Homeland Security Conference, AFCEA’s Homeland Security Conference and Homeland Security Course, ProCM.org, and the Security Industry Association’s ISC East and ACT-IAC small business committee. She has also been featured in CEO Magazine and in MorganFranklin’s www.VoicesonValue.com campaign. She is a graduate of St. Olaf College and earned her Master’s in Public Administration from George Mason University. She was honored by the mid-Atlantic INLETS Law Enforcement Training Board with the “Above and Beyond” award in both 2019 – for her support to the homeland security and first responder community for furthering public private partnerships, creating information sharing outlets, and facilitating platforms for strengthening communities – and 2024 – for her work supporting Ukraine in their defense against the Russian invasion. In 2016 she was selected as AFCEA International’s Industry Small Business Person of the Year, in 2015 received the U.S. Treasury, Office of Small Disadvantaged Business Utilization Excellence in Partnership award for “Moving Treasury’s Small Business Program Forward,” as a National Association of Woman Owned Businesses Distinguished Woman of the Year Finalist, nominated for “Friend of the Entrepreneur” by the Northern Virginia Technology Council, Military Spouse of the Year by the U.S. Coast Guard in 2011, and for a Heroines of Washington DC award in 2014. She is fluent in Ukrainian.

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