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Safer Together: A Six-Step Cross-Border Action Plan

Trefor Munn-Venn, Director, National Security and Public Safety
May 1, 2009

Owners and operators of critical infrastructure along the Canada–United States border do not have a clear understanding of what is happening in the other country. When critical infrastructure—which includes transportation, energy, and communications systems—fails in one country, it has a direct effect on the other side of the border. Many ad hoc arrangements are in place and strong personal relationships exist—both of which have been critical during times of need—but that is no way to protect communities and critical infrastructure that straddle the Canada–U.S. border.

Neither cross-border threats nor response capabilities are well understood, and mechanisms do not exist to let critical infrastructure providers work together effectively. For example, very few groups focused on protecting critical infrastructure include representatives from both Canada and the U.S. Training exercises that include Canadians and Americans are few and far between. As the range, frequency, and impact of emergencies increase, a clear action plan is needed to enable individuals and organizations responsible for protecting critical infrastructure to work together more effectively.

Very few groups focused on protecting critical infrastructure include representatives from both Canada and the U.S.

A Cross-Border Action Plan

Working extensively with critical infrastructure owners and operators from cross-border regions of Canada and the U.S., the Conference Board’s Centre for National Security conducted a major study to establish such an action plan. This project included an extensive review of existing practices, in-depth discussions with 100 experts in security and border issues, and facilitated workshops with representatives from the two countries. Here is the six-step cross-border action plan.

  • Establish leadership teams: Each cross-border region needs to bring together leadership teams with balanced representation from Canada and the U.S. These champions can rapidly set direction, establish priorities, and increase opportunities to engage senior executives from the critical infrastructure organizations.
  • Involve a broad range of players: The Conference Board, among other bodies, has completed much of the groundwork to identify the organizations that must be involved in a successful cross-border approach. These players now require regional plans of action and tangible ways to contribute.
  • Develop and perform regional risk assessments: Without information about threats, risks, and vulnerabilities, critical infrastructure owners cannot develop robust protection and response plans, work together effectively, or prioritize their resources or their attention. Owners and operators need to adopt a widely accepted template for regional risk assessments, and they need to be willing to share information with each other more openly.
  • Assess interdependencies: There is only a rudimentary understanding of the ways that critical infrastructure systems are interwoven. Furthermore, the risks that these systems face are not well understood. These interdependencies are now being recognized and should be assessed.
  • Develop protection and response priorities and plans: Once a clear understanding of interdependencies and risks exists, critical infrastructure providers in cross-border regions should refine their priorities and make more effective decisions about protecting their assets.
  • Establish exercise plans: Exercises help build relationships and field test equipment and processes, but participants are frustrated that the lessons from exercises are not being put into action. New approaches need to place greater emphasis on implementing the lessons from exercises. In addition, each cross-border region needs a three-year plan aligned with the risk assessments.

Critical infrastructure owners and operators on both sides of the border are prepared to put this plan into action; some groups have already started to act. Coupled with their commitment is a desire for a broader Canada–U.S. framework that strengthens the ability of both countries to protect the infrastructure on which they both rely.

Trefor Munn-Venn
National Security and Public Safety
613-526-3090 ext. 241

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