Disaster Response and Mutual Aid

Guidance helps local, state authorities identify critical workers for COVID-19 response

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) on March 19 issued guidance to help state and local authorities in identifying critical infrastructure workers, including the electricity sector, as they work to ensure continuity of services critical to public health and safety, and economic and national security during the COVID-19 pandemic response.

The electric utility industry, including the American Public Power Association, worked with CISA on developing the guidance.

“We recognize that state, local, tribal, and territorial governments are ultimately in charge of implementing and executing response activities in communities under their jurisdiction, while the federal government is in a supporting role,” wrote CISA Director Chris Krebs in a cover memo from the guidance document.

“As state and local communities consider COVID-19-related restrictions, CISA is offering this list to assist prioritizing activities related to continuity of operations and incident response, including the appropriate movement of critical infrastructure workers within and between jurisdictions,” wrote Krebs.

Accordingly, the list is advisory in nature, he noted. “It is not, nor should it be considered to be, a federal directive or standard in and of itself,” Krebs went on to say,

In addition, the identified sectors and workers are not intended to be the authoritative or exhaustive list of critical infrastructure sectors and functions that should continue during the COVID-19 response.

“Instead, state and local officials should use their own judgment in using their authorities and issuing implementation directives and guidance. Similarly, critical infrastructure industry partners will use their own judgment, informed by this list, to ensure continued operations of critical infrastructure services and functions. All decisions should appropriately balance public safety while ensuring the continued delivery of critical infrastructure services and functions,” wrote Krebs.

CISA executes the Secretary of Homeland Security’s responsibilities as assigned under the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to provide strategic guidance, promote a national unity of effort, and coordinate the overall federal effort to ensure the security and resilience of the nation's critical infrastructure. CISA uses partnerships with both the public and private sectors to deliver infrastructure resilience assistance and guidance to a broad range of partners.

“In accordance with this mandate, and in collaboration with other federal agencies and the private sector, CISA developed an initial list of ‘Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers’ to help state and local officials as they work to protect their communities, while ensuring continuity of functions critical to public health and safety, as well as economic and national security,” Krebs said.

He said that the list can also inform critical infrastructure community decision making to determine the sectors, sub-sectors, segments, or critical functions that should continue normal operations, appropriately modified to account for Centers for Disease Control workforce and customer protection guidance.

The list identifies workers who conduct a range of operations and services that are essential to continued critical infrastructure viability, including staffing operations centers, maintaining and repairing critical infrastructure, operating call centers, working construction, and performing management functions, among others.

The industries they support represent, but are not necessarily limited to, medical and healthcare, telecommunications, information technology systems, defense, food and agriculture, transportation and logistics, energy, water and wastewater, law enforcement, and public works.

The guidance lists the following categories of electric utility workers as critical:

  • Workers who maintain, ensure, or restore the generation, transmission, and distribution of electric power, including call centers, utility workers, reliability engineers and fleet maintenance technicians;
  • Workers needed for safe and secure operations at nuclear generation;
  • Workers at generation, transmission, and electric blackstart facilities;
  • Workers at Reliability Coordinator, Balancing Authorities, and primary and backup control centers, including but not limited to independent system operators, regional transmission organizations, and balancing authorities;
  • Mutual assistance personnel;
  • IT and OT technology staff – for Energy Management Systems and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition systems, and utility data centers; Cybersecurity engineers; cybersecurity risk management;
  • Vegetation management crews and traffic workers who support;
  • Environmental remediation/monitoring technicians; and
  • Instrumentation, protection, and control technicians

Power sector groups, including APPA, worked together through the CEO-led Electricity Subsector Coordinating Council (ESCC) and their respective memberships, to identify critical workers based on a request from the government.

Kevin Wailes, administrator and CEO of Lincoln Electric System, serves as co-chair of the ESCC. Joy Ditto, President and CEO of APPA, serves on the ESCC Steering Committee.

The ESCC has developed a resource guide—tailored to electric power industry leaders—for assessing and mitigating COVID-19. It is available at ElectricitySubsector.org and will be updated as necessary.

APPA has set up a webpage that provides information and resources for its members related to COVID-19 and updates on how this affects APPA programs and events.