Cyberthreats are bringing IT and emergency management professionals together for a common purpose in the commonwealth.
Shawn Talmadge, assistant secretary for Virginia's office of Public Safety and Homeland Security (Commonwealth of Virginia)
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced on Wednesday a new series of cybersecurity workshops designed to bring together the often-isolated worlds of emergency management and information technology.
An initial series of seven events — one for each of the state's seven homeland security regions — started last week as a way to bring together IT security professionals and emergency managers who have increasingly overlapping interests in the face of growing cyberthreats against the nation's infrastructure — including those against nuclear, petrochemical or manufacturing plants.
"It's almost a brick wall between the two, but I don't think it's purpose-built. It's just lost in translation," said Shawn Talmadge, assistant secretary for Virginia's office of Public Safety and Homeland Security. "I think some folks just don't understand what emergency management really means, that it's just a response function."
A key goal of the workshops will be to build relationships between the communities before a cyber incident occurs, Talmadge said, so that state, local and regional emergency management personnel and IT security professionals can be as prepared as possible.
Another goal of the workshops is to share resources and help build understanding around IT security threats. For instance, not everyone knows about the information published by the state's fusion center, he said. Large businesses and government organizations in the state may wield adequate resources and expertise, Talmadge said, but this series especially targets those that don't.
"Our sweet spot — the area we see having the greatest influence — is those medium to small municipalities, and it goes to small and medium businesses as well," he said.
Experts in both fields have told StateScoop it's a common misconception that cybersecurity is beyond the province of public safety. But malware can affect industrial systems and experts assure anyone who will listen that, given enough time, they will.
One of Virginia's priorities in reorganizing its homeland security office in 2014, Talmadge said, was to assume a regional and proactive stance with regard to IT security and all issues of emergency management. If emergency managers are generally considered technological laggards, Virginia has sought to position itself as a leader.
"These engagements are not going to be a one-time deal," Talmadge said. "Moving forward, we will continue cybersecurity workshops as part of emergency management discussions that occur on a routine basis."
Scheduling and registration information about the workshops can be found here.