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Credit: CISA

Have you ever wanted to work within one of the most critical industries in the nation, or with the agencies responsible for protecting our nation’s most valuable assets? In this article, we’ll take a dive into the who and why these oft-forgot positions are staffed by and within from a security perspective.

What is National Critical Infrastructure (NCI)?

NCI, as defined by the Department of Homeland Security, encompasses facilities that are vital to national security and daily function. This includes energy, commerce, transportation, and other utilities. These industries, even though the layman doesn’t often see their actual work, affect every facet of our daily lives in the United States.

Who secures the facilities?

Facilities rely on a blend of armed and unarmed private and federal security officers. Organizations such as Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway Co. (BNSF), Energy Northwest, and others have in-house private police forces granted powers to arrest on company sites by the U.S. government—known as a limited commission. The Bureau of Reclamation and Department of Energy rely on federal armed security officers, a 0085 federal job designation. The officers in these agencies are highly trained, as they secure some of the most important assets in the nation such as nuclear devices and material, dams, and canals. Probably the most public example of this is the security staff at Hoover Dam, who fall under the Bureau of Reclamation SRF Force.

What does a day in the life look like?

These are all armed positions, so the day begins with an armory visit to draw weapons (that are qualified on yearly or more). These weapons are assigned to individual officers and typically carried for their entire tenure at that duty station. After weapons draw and the officers are wearing their equipment (i.e. body armor, duty belts etc.), typically a morning briefing is held to discuss current threat levels, assignments for the day to include vehicles and postings, and who the shift supervisors are. This is much like security companies in general, although the threat levels and intelligence data for the day on the federal level are typically more thorough.

For the majority of these positions, the actual shift work may seem mundane. It typically consists of site checks in an assigned area; this includes checking to see doors are locked, gates and facilities haven’t been tampered with, and standard patrols. For sites that offer tours, such as Hoover Dam, officers may have the responsibility of searching tour attendees and manning other access control systems such as gates and metal detectors. For many of these facilities, other federal agents—even law enforcement—aren’t authorized to carry firearms at all. The on-site staff are the only ones permitted to be armed on property. This is because, in the event of an emergency, all actions are specifically coordinated and the teams on site often have years of working with each other, as well as hundreds of hours of training. This training includes things like active attacker response, traffic stops, shooting, IED response, and more—even down to customer service and case law training.

How do teams select their staff?

Typically, it’s a very intensive process. This starts with the application itself, which can be extensive due to the need for as much background information as possible for sensitive positions. After the application and subsequent approval or disapproval, a physical fitness test is typically required. The most common standard for these consists of a run, push-ups, and crunches at various benchmarks depending on the agency. If the applicant passes the fitness test, they are then moved to drug testing and the background check process, as many of these postings require a clearance of some sort. After the applicant makes it through this process, they are subjected to a multi-week academy with intensive training across a spectrum of security functions. This can include academia, on top of being physically demanding, and often culminates in a final high-stress situational examination, much like law enforcement academies.

Overall, working in the NCI security industry is physically and mentally demanding, but incredibly rewarding—especially in the way of retirement, high-level training, camaraderie, and experience. You have the opportunity to work with a range of private and federal agencies and build rapport outside your own agency as well. On the federal side, if one doesn’t elect to stay on the NCI team, lateral movement is possible. It also provides you with a better opportunity to experience the backbone of our nation from an insider’s perspective, while defending the most critical national assets. If you want a rewarding career in an important role, NCI sector positions are one of the best.