Huntsville’s Exemplar City Model Aimed at Municipal Cybersecurity

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    After 59 tornadoes touched down across the state of Alabama on April 27, 2011, killing 249 people and disrupting power and other services for days, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle began what would become a major three-pronged initiative to address the area’s preparations for natural or man-made threats to infrastructure and national security.

    National security was of particular concern for Huntsville due to the presence of the Missile Defense Agency, the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center and over 40 other federal agencies, according to Directions Magazine. Treating the effect of the tornados as similar to that of a cyberattack, the governor’s directives led to the creation of three separate initiatives, GEO Huntsville, Cyber Huntsville and Energy Huntsville. Each plays a role in the larger effort to create best practices not only for energy grid cybersecurity, but for workforce development in cybersecurity, energy and geospatial information, as well.

    Now, Huntsville’s efforts will be shared with municipal governments across the U.S. through a model called Exemplar City. As described in Directions Magazine:

    Exemplar City is a model that municipal governments can follow when faced with a wide variety of challenges such as responding to a local emergency or crisis, mitigating economic impacts, dealing with workforce skill or capacity issues, or facing overwhelming infrastructure demands. Exemplar City, as a doctrine, is flexible, scalable and adaptable for use by stakeholders across the whole community and applicable for use in the geospatial, cyber security and energy sectors. The objective is to build safe, secure and sustainable communities using an integrated location-based technology foundation. As such, Exemplar City intends to test geospatial technology integration methods, to create new best practices for governance concerning sharing geospatial data, and to build workflows for automated information dissemination.

    Energy Huntsville is focusing on developing public-private initiatives that are tasked with growing a skilled workforce to serve both the Huntsville community and other communities that want to emulate the city’s model. It is also developing “micro-grid technology” to bolster resiliency in the face of regional or national attacks to the energy grid.

    GEO Huntsville’s working groups are using just about every hot technology to develop and test data collection and integration in support of rapid response capabilities across jurisdictions.

    At a time when federal oversight and jurisdiction over the security of the U.S. energy grid is severely confused, not to mention less than comforting, other states are also making it a priority to solidify infrastructure cybersecurity plans as best they can, and to share what they’ve learned in the process.

    Connecticut’s Governor Dannel Malloy this week announced a cybersecurity plan developed jointly with state utility companies. State regulators there want the utilities to continue to build on their experience with deflecting attacks, which are actually common, and plan to share their strategies with other states, according to CBS New York.

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