Whitmer: Governors across U.S. firm up states' infrastructure

Gretchen Whitmer and Larry Hogan

As the East Coast cleans up from hurricanes, the West Coast grapples with wildfires, and the Midwest faces another destructive tornado season, we are all increasingly aware of our vulnerability to disasters. Last year alone, the United States suffered from catastrophes causing a total of $91 billion in damages.

Unfortunately, it’s part of an upward trend in severe weather and climate change effects. Since 1980, the nation has experienced disasters costing $1.6 trillion total. Almost one-third of those costs came in just the last three years.

Beyond physical disasters are the digital ones. Our technology-driven infrastructure is increasingly vulnerable to cyberattack, and the electric grid is a prime target. In 2016, roughly 20% of incidents reported by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security were directed at the energy sector, which itself supports other vital services, from our water supply to communications and transportation to medical care.

As governors, our greatest responsibility is to protect the health and safety of our citizens and communities. We are meeting in Detroit this week as part of the yearlong National Governors Association Chair’s Initiative, Infrastructure: Foundation for Success. Experts from across the country will join us to discuss proven methods for protecting infrastructure vital to the well-being of our citizens.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan

We look forward to discussing the most effective measures we can take to protect our states. For example, using microgrids to deliver power can limit the extent of an outage or the impact of a cyberattack. Moreover, relying on solar power plus home energy storage can support emergency heating, cooling, lighting and communications, as well as refrigeration for sensitive medications and food supplies, during and after a disaster. And transitioning to clean energy reduces costs and emissions, for greater budgetary and environmental sustainability.

In May, the Hogan administration in Maryland announced a bold and innovative strategy to advance a clean and renewable energy standard with the goal of 100% clean electricity by the year 2040. Maryland is also leading the nation on microgrid development by using grants and incentives to create resiliency hubs within local neighborhoods, especially low- and moderate-income areas. And Maryland is a pioneer of “microgrid as a service” purchasing agreements, which leverage public-private partnerships. This model can bring microgrids to more communities nationwide.

Maryland is working hard to strengthen its position as the cybersecurity capital of America. The state is home to the premier cyber-related federal government agencies and military installations in the United States, including the National Security Agency, the U.S. Cyber Cyber Command, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Maryland is also proud to have 12,000 IT companies, 1,200 private sector cybersecurity companies, and an unparalleled pool of cyber and technology workers.

And Michigan is home to bold, innovative leaders who are always looking for new ways to upgrade our cybersecurity systems. Institutions like Lansing Community College have partnered with programs like Cisco NetAcademy to train the next generation of leaders in IT. This includes students who undergo training to help protect Michigan’s cybersecurity. At the state level, our Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Protection division within the Department of Technology, Management and Budget is responsible for protecting the state from cyberattacks and provides cybersecurity advisory services to local governments in the state. In this day and age, it’s becoming increasingly important that we adequately fund these divisions so we can keep our state safe.

All of these examples demonstrate how states are protecting against threats to our infrastructure with the best ideas and latest technologies. This week’s summit is another testament to the bipartisan commitment of the nation’s governors to get things done for the people we serve.

Gretchen Whitmer is governor of Michigan and a member of the National Governors Association executive committee. Larry Hogan is governor of Maryland and chair of the National Governors Association.