Volunteers seek out public/private partnerships

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Kathleen Kiernan, chairwoman, InfraGard
Kathleen Kiernan, chairwoman, InfraGard

Building trust between the public and private sectors can be a challenge. When done correctly, however, such a partnership can have world-changing results.

Over time, each side has developed levels of expertise, credibility, refined capabilities and experience, which cumulatively yet unintentionally excludes the other. The standard reasons include organizational tradition and policy, issues related to classification, and the demands of functioning in a persistent high-threat environment. Taken together, all these things leave little time to develop sustainable external relationships and specific domain expertise. 

I have been afforded the privilege to lead an organization of selfless volunteers who choose to cross the line to bridge the public-private divide, motivated solely by a desire to improve the security of our country. InfraGard is a leading public-private partnership representing more than 40,000 members and exists to provide an opportunity for owners and operators of critical infrastructure and key resources (CI/KR) to share information about attacks, risks, vulnerabilities, mitigation and remediation.

Founded in 1996, the program has 86 members alliances across the country, each affiliated with an FBI field office, yet operated independently as a 501c (3) corporation with a membership ranging from young graduate students to senior executives. InfraGard provides its members with unmatched opportunities to promote the physical safety and cybersecurity of their organizations through access to a trusted, national network of subject matter experts from the public and private sectors.

Additionally, it provides government stakeholders with unparalleled access to the expertise and experience of critical infrastructure owners and operators, which is especially important in national disasters resulting from either natural causes or at the hands of terrorist organizations. Restoration of services behind the familiar precautionary tape and barriers is where the value resides – even and perhaps especially, when the disaster is unfamiliar and occurring within the cyber domain.

I also have been privileged to spend the majority of my adult life in law enforcement; a noble profession that, by its very nature, instills an ability to “see” what is hidden in plain sight to the untrained eye. Law enforcement professionals regardless of rank or position develop this ability as a foundation of officer safety; the absence of which can have fatal consequences.

A similar skill set exists across the private domain within the ranks of InfraGard and our partner organizations, such as ISSA, wherein owners and operators can discern the most subtle of changes and understand the difference between the churn of business activity and natural competition from malicious and often disguised intent. It has been a catalyst for our partnering with the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the National Sheriffs Organization.

For me, it is a lesson I wish I learned earlier in my career.

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