Functioning critical infrastructure is crucial during the response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) emergency for public health and safety reasons. And as noted in the Coronavirus Guidelines for America issued on March 16, US President Donald Trump has recommended that workers in critical infrastructure industries have a “special responsibility” to maintain normal work schedules. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) on March 19 issued guidance on defining the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce. That guidance explicitly discusses workers in the nuclear and electric industries.
CISA is a standalone operational component under the US Department of Homeland Security. In collaboration with other federal agencies and the private sector, CISA developed an initial list of “Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers” to help state and local officials and other stakeholders make decisions that balance the need for social distancing against the goal of ensuring the continued delivery of critical infrastructure services and functions.
CISA acknowledges that “[s]tate, local, tribal, and territorial governments are ultimately in charge of implementing and executing response activities in communities under their jurisdiction, while the Federal Government is in a supporting role.” Accordingly, the guidance is advisory in nature: “It is not, nor should it be considered to be, a federal directive or standard in and of itself.”
The guidance identifies various critical infrastructure sectors, including “Energy” and “Nuclear Reactors, Materials & Waste.”
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Essential Electricity Infrastructure Workers
The guidance provides detailed lists of recommended “Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers”
by sector and industry. As relevant to the electricity industry, the list includes the following:
- Workers who maintain, ensure, or restore the generation, transmission, and distribution of electric power, including call centers, utility workers, reliability engineers, and fleet maintenance technicians
- Workers needed for safe and secure operations at nuclear generation facilities
- Workers at generation, transmission, and electric blackstart facilities
- Workers at Reliability Coordinator, Balancing Authorities, and primary and backup Control Centers, including independent system operators, and regional transmission organizations
- Mutual assistance personnel
- IT and OT technology staff for Energy Management Systems and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition systems, and utility data centers; cybersecurity engineers; and cybersecurity risk management personnel
- Vegetation management crews and traffic workers who support them
- Environmental remediation/monitoring technicians
- Instrumentation, protection, and control technicians
Generation (including nuclear generation), transmission, and distribution entities—and vendors and service providers to those entities—may find this guidance useful in developing or implementing pandemic response plans. In addition, the guidance may be helpful in discussions with state and local governments to ensure essential workers are permitted to travel consistent with their professional obligations notwithstanding orders intended to prohibit or otherwise limit travel.
Finally, the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) has established a team of industry professionals to coordinate with suppliers and vendors to the nuclear industry regarding COVID-19-related issues, best practices, and lessons learned. NEI is receiving input at email@example.com.
Morgan Lewis will continue to monitor further developments in this area.
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