MADISON, Wis. — The state’s revised homeland security strategy should be seen as a roadmap that guides state and local response to such potential hazards as cyber attacks, asymmetric or terrorist threats, and catastrophic incidents as well as sustaining response capabilities already developed.
That’s according to Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin adjutant general and Gov. Scott Walker’s homeland security advisor. In the latter role, Dunbar chairs Wisconsin’s Homeland Security Council, comprised of representatives from 16 state agencies and first responder organizations.
“This strategy is Wisconsin’s homeland security keystone document,” Dunbar said during an official presentation ceremony July 10 in the governor’s conference room at the state capitol. “It’s a core document, the foundation on which the rest of our plans and programs will be built upon.”
Dunbar said state government has a clear responsibility to protect the state network and respond to cyber incidents. The revised strategy focuses on improving Wisconsin’s cyber response capabilities, developing a cyber disruption strategy and creating a cyber liaison office program.
“We think there’s quite a bit of ingenuity in our plan,” Dunbar said. “On the cyber front, the cyber disruption plan, we’re going to collaborate with all the critical infrastructure lead companies that will partner with us and try to figure out if something happens to a particular critical infrastructure area, what might be needed in terms of supporting them, and to build the right capabilities here in the state to end the disruption as soon as possible.”
Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, who accepted the strategy on behalf of Walker, noted that there were 60 million cyber attacks on private and public agencies in Wisconsin last month.
“It’s an incredibly serious threat, and we need to address it,” she said.
Dunbar described cyber attacks as asymmetric threats that are more challenging to respond to — in large part to how new the threat is.
“With a tornado or a flood, we have well-developed muscle movements on how to respond,” Dunbar said. “Not to minimize the severity that a tornado can cause, but we know what to do when a tornado happens. We haven’t gone through a big cyber event, and every indication is something is going to happen down that lane.”
Mark Michie, the Joint Staff vice chief of staff, said the Wisconsin National Guard is building a Cyber Network Defense team, which will begin training next year.
The revised homeland security strategy’s second priority focuses on preventing and responding to chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high-explosive (CBRNE) events, infectious disease incidents and “agro-terror” events that could devastate the state and its economy.
The strategy’s third priority focuses on natural or man-made catastrophic incident response and recovery.
“In a catastrophic event, local and state resources can be overwhelmed, and there may be a significant threat to life and property,” Dunbar explained. “It’s important to plan for high consequence, low probability events in order to protect our community and enable a deliberate and full recovery following a disaster. This plan seeks to script our response during the critical first 72 hours after an event, to expand on regional collaboration and improve resilience through the long-term recovery plan.”
In previous years, Wisconsin has invested federal Homeland Security grants to develop response and mitigation capabilities. The final priority of the state’s revised homeland security strategy is to sustain those capabilities.
“We know these are very austere fiscal times,” Kleefisch said, “and we know you had to spend a good amount of time deciding where exactly [federal funds] would be allocated. We know those funds have been appropriated exactly where they are most needed — the local level, and at the tribal level, working with your first responders, the police department, sheriff’s offices and municipalities and counties across the state.”
The Wisconsin National Guard Joint Staff has developed a five-year revolving plan to prepare for the hazards identified by Wisconsin Emergency Management’s Threat Hazard Identification Risk Assessment (THIRA) — floods, tornadoes, snowstorms, wildfires, cyber attacks, terrorism, CBRNE, pandemics and agro-terror events. Operation Plans have been developed for each contingency, which allows the Joint Staff to identify the appropriate assets quickly and place the right Wisconsin National Guard members on state orders.
“We call it ‘speed through preparedness,’” said Col. Julie Gerety, the Joint Staff operations, plans and training officer.
The state homeland security strategy is updated every four years, following each gubernatorial election, and is informed by public comment.
“Part of the point of revising the plan and revisiting how we sustain our current collaborative relationships that resource this is there are new threats that emerge every single day,” Kleefisch said. “The threats today are certainly not the threats from our childhoods, so we need to make sure we’re prepared for what comes in the future. Part of our plan is anticipating the future, being prepared for whatever may come.”
“We think this is a well thought-out plan,” Dunbar added. “It’s not going to solve all our problems or build walls that make us impenetrable, but it will give us good places to start and be better prepared when the inevitable will happen.”