U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN) took notice when a bombing in Nashville affected the ability of people locally to be able to communicate.
On Christmas Day, a man set off a bomb in Downtown Nashville, injuring multiple people and causing widespread building and infrastructure damage.
The bomb was set off near an AT&T switching station and it caused widespread outages of cellphone service and some loss of internet signal around the region, including the local area.
“The State of Tennessee office buildings had to stay closed for a while due to the lack of phone service,” Fleischmann said. “This was a major outage due to the blast, which occurred in the area of the AT&T Center.”
Fleischmann said the incident reinforced concerns that had been voiced previously.
“For years now, I have advocated … for securing the physical security of the grid,” he said. “There is no question I have always advocated for protecting our infrastructure from the standpoint of cybersecurity — it’s very important and not to be downplayed, it’s got to be protected. But the one thing that has been overlooked time and time again is the physical protection of our infrastructure.”
He said this falls in with natural disasters that have taken place over the years that have caused major infrastructure problems.
“When superstorm Sandy hit the northeast, my research indicated that, because of the physical damage of the natural occurrence, the infrastructure was so damaged that people did not have running water, sometimes for weeks — they had to bring in water, they had to bring in gasoline, it was literally relegated to a very poor, basic existence,” he said. “I would have thought that we would have learned from those experiences.”
He hopes now that some movement can be made on getting legislation passed.
“I have spoken with Republicans, I have spoken with Democrats, I have spoken with my friends in the Senate from both parties and they agree with me that it’s high time we look at legislation that will better protect our physical infrastructure,” he said. “I am going to work with both sides of the aisle to try to construct a bipartisan, bicameral physical infrastructure bill to better address that in the future.”
While there is nothing definite on the legislation yet, Fleischmann noted that it will take a private-public partnership of sorts to get it accomplished.
“There is no question the federal government will have to assist in terms of providing funding for this critical infrastructure,” he said. “Private companies would work to partner with us in this endeavor and it would have to be a case-by-case basis.”
He added that this would have to be done throughout the country.
“All across the United States, there are critical facilities that provide electricity, some form of communication, distribution of natural gas or petroleum products,” he said. “If it is affected by a danger — be it manmade or natural — and interrupted, it puts us in a very vulnerable position to provide necessary services to our citizens.”
Fleischmann added that shortly after the bomb went off, he was in contact with people on the ground as part of his role as ranking member of the Homeland Security Subcommittee of Appropriations.
“I was shocked and saddened to learn about the bombing. I reached out not only to the governor, but also Mayor (John) Cooper of Nashville to offer my assistance,” he said. “I reached out to the White House, asking the president to sign an emergency declaration calling this a disaster. I work on a regular basis with FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and I requested the swiftest and most generous assistance we can receive as a state.”
Fleischmann said the damage to the buildings in Downtown Nashville was considerable.
“It is clear that the damage to those buildings is substantial and we are probably looking at in excess of $1 billion worth of damage,” he noted.