Tuesday 01 March 2016

Achieving national interests can require the use of military force, and using military force often causes a nation to review or even increase its national infrastructure protection precautions. Protection of our essential infrastructure is fundamental to ensuring the continuing prosperity of the nation and the safety of all UAE residents.

The two Tochka missile attacks in Yemen (on 4 September in Marib province and on 14 December in Taiz province) serve to remind us of the very real threat posed by such missiles once they are in the hands of those who seek to do us harm. At the operational level, responses to such attacks are considered Force Protection; Canadians define Force Protection as, “measures taken to contribute to mission success by preserving freedom of action and operational effectiveness through managing risks and minimizing vulnerabilities to personnel, information, materiel, facilities and activities.” Force Protection is applicable to maritime, land, air, information, and even space environments, and it is necessary during all phases of an operation, from deployment to return. Note that operational Force Protection realistically manages, but cannot eliminate risk. Operational Force Protection focuses primarily on making military units and personnel unpredictable; unfortunately that is nearly impossible to do at the national level.

Critical Infrastructure Protection is the analogous strategic concept; it involves the preparedness and response to incidents that threaten the infrastructure of a nation. The systems and networks that make up the infrastructure of our society are often taken for granted, yet a disruption to just one of those systems can have severe consequences. For example, a computer virus that disrupts natural gas distribution across the country could lead to a reduction in electrical power generation, which in turn could lead to the shutdown of computerized communications. Road and air traffic might then become affected. Emergency services might also be hampered. An entire region can be affected because one critical element in the infrastructure becomes disabled and, unfortunately, terrorists know well that attacking civilian infrastructure can cripple an opponent. So strategists must protect national infrastructure.

National infrastructure must also include facilities supporting banking and finance, transportation, power generation, and information and communications. Many governments have developed standardized approaches to infrastructure protection which include both government and private sector actions in order to monitor and prepare for potential disabling events. Typically these require facility managers to: assess vulnerabilities, eliminate significant weaknesses, and develop systems to contain attacks and rebuild essential capabilities quickly. Assessing infrastructure requires analysis of Protection (the status of safeguards or shielding), Vulnerability (susceptibility to damage), Risk (the likelihood of attack) and Mitigation (reducing or moderating vulnerabilities). With much of any nation’s critical infrastructure being privately owned, governments must ensure the cooperation of private sector as well as Emirate and local entities to guarantee normal operations.

The UAE has its own strategic infrastructure protection entities, including the Critical Infrastructure and Coastal Protection Authority, whose mission is to “safeguard critical infrastructure to assure social and economic stability within Abu Dhabi and beyond,” and the National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority (NCEMA), which works under the supervision of the Supreme Council for National Security to “enhance the UAE’s capabilities in managing emergency, crisis and disaster by: setting the requirements of business continuity, enabling quick recovery through joint planning, and coordinating communication both at the national and local level;” NCEMA develops national procedures to ensure the safety of all residents of the United Arab Emirates and to preserve the property of the country.

We all share in the responsibility to protect our essential infrastructure and ensure the continuing prosperity of the nation and all of its residents. The missile attacks in Yemen and the recent earthquake in Taiwan remind us of the need for protection; in the future SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) cyber attacks may pose even greater threats than missiles. Having organizations such as CICPA and NCEMA benefit all of us, but we each need to understand how we can help guarantee that the health and economic prosperity of the UAE can be preserved over the decades to come regardless of the threat.