Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Identifies Essential Critical Energy Infrastructure Workers During COVID-19 Response

On March 19, 2020, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) issued its Memorandum on Identification of Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers During COVID-19 Response (“Memo”).  The Memo identifies workers who conduct “a range of operations and services that are essential to continued critical infrastructure viability” and who support a wide-spectrum of industries such as medical and healthcare, telecommunications, information technology systems, defense, and energy.

As provided by the Homeland Security Act of 2002, CISA is the agency charged with executing the Secretary of Homeland Security’s responsibility to provide strategic guidance and coordinate the overall federal effort to ensure the security and resilience of the Nation’s critical infrastructure.  In accordance with this mandate, and in collaboration with other federal agencies and the private sector, CISA developed a list of “Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers” to help State and local officials protect their communities and ensure that functions critical to public health and safety, and economic and national security continue to operate.  CISA acknowledged that State and local governments have ultimate responsibility for response activities in their own communities, and that CISA’s guidelines are intended only as a guide for state and local governments in prioritizing actions related to operational resiliency, including critical infrastructure workers, during the COVID-19 pandemic response.

Within the energy industry, the CISA’s Memo identifies three broad categories of protected workers:  electric industry; petroleum workers; and natural and propane gas workers. With respect to the electricity sector, CISA identified the following as critical workers:

  • 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
  • Workers at generation, transmission, and electric blackstart facilities
  • Workers at Reliability Coordinator (RC), Balancing Authorities (BA), and primary and backup Control Centers (CC), including but not limited to independent system operators, regional transmission organizations, and balancing authorities
  • Mutual assistance personnel
  • IT and OT technology staff – for EMS (Energy Management Systems) and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems, and utility data centers, Cybersecurity engineers, cybersecurity risk management
  • Vegetation management crews and traffic workers
  • Environmental remediation/monitoring technicians
  • Instrumentation, protection, and control technicians

CISA emphasizes that its list is “advisory in nature,” and should not be considered a federal directive or standard.  Nor, according to CISA, is it intended to be an exhaustive list of critical infrastructure functions.  Instead, CISA encourages state and local leaders to exercise their own judgement in identifying critical activities and in developing appropriate protocols.  As the pandemic response continues, it is likely that CISA’s guidance will similarly change to reflect the energy sector’s needs.

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