September 21 – Hurricane Response

Policy Analysis – 

 This week, we are going to look at H-ISAC’s work to support the sector maintain resiliency during hurricane season. Ed Brennan, the Director of Operations at H-ISAC, filled me in on his work leading the ISAC’s hurricane response efforts in recent weeks.

First let’s start with the overall structure that guides response. FEMA leads planning and response to national level emergencies within the federal government. The Stafford Act gives FEMA certain broad authorities to coordinate activities and deploy federal resources when certain conditions are met – most notably when the president declares a major disaster or emergency.

When a disaster is declared, FEMA’s work is guided by the National Response Framework (NRF). The NRF is the policy and planning document that identifies roles and responsibilities, establishes coordinating structures, and assigns tasks and actions.

The NRF assigns HHS as the coordinator for Emergency Support Function 8 (ESF-8), which is public health and medical services. In this role, HHS coordinates (as they have done in response to Harvey and Irma) the medical response by deploying public health assets and capabilities and working with private sector partners to maintain health resiliency in an impacted region. In addition, HHS (through their Security Operations Center) supports preparation, mitigation, response, and recovery though Healthcare and Public Health Sector calls. These calls bring together Public and private sector organizations to resolve unmet needs and aid recovery.

H-ISAC is engaged in all aspects of disaster planning, response, and recovery, despite not being formally named in the National Response Framework. As the officially designated ISAC for the health care and public health sector, H-ISAC supports HHS and its mission as well as the efforts of all sector organizations.

During this hurricane season, Ed has regularly joined the FEMA/HHS led planning, response, and recovery calls. He represents the ISAC what would be akin to an “Emergency Manager” under the NRF structure, but his primary role is to maintain situational awareness and readiness, and step in to support the sector or lead federal agencies if asked. Ed serves as a conduit for members to engage the government.

Within its own mission, H-ISAC has sought to support the sector’s cyber-resiliency through the impact of the hurricanes. Ed has been tracking and distributing information on the rise of internet-based scams that target individuals and organizations impacted by the storms. H-ISAC has put out a bulletin as has US-CERT – both are worth reviewing and sharing within your organizations as you feel are appropriate.

This is Ed’s top recommendation to members – be aware of the cascading hazards that can arise out of a disaster event and engage in information sharing to stay informed and help warn others. He also recommends making sure that you have business continuity plans in place that have identified key points of contact in the national coordinating structure, including the local ESF-8 contact in your region.

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