With Osama bin Laden’s 2004 call for attacks on Arab oil and Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s recent reminder to the Economic Club of New York that Canada is the world’s only stable producer of oil, protection of critical infrastructure has never been more important. While many jurisdictions struggle to define just what should be deemed ‘critical’ and how it should be protected – a recent survey found that over 80% of critical infrastructure is owned by the private sector – Alberta has made significant steps to secure its oil.

The terrible events of 9/11 shocked and horrified North Americans, and exposed a vulnerability we hadn’t previously considered. The repercussions of that tragic day have been enormous. Some of these are tangible, like increased security measures at airports. Others are less obvious, such as the homeland security policies implemented by the Canadian and American governments.

As in most jurisdictions across the continent, Alberta immediately responded by identifying possible terrorist targets within the province, and initiating measures to protect them. The province was also faced with the reality that Alberta is now recognized internationally as a major oil supplier, primarily due to the oilsands.

The international interest that has opened up markets for Alberta crude and expertise also carries with it the threat of unwanted attention from terrorists who would seek to destabilize in any way possible.

When potential targets include energy and power facilities that number in the hundreds of thousands, protective measures must be clearly conceived and very efficient.

The vast scale of Alberta’s infrastructure is also reflected in the number of agencies that collaborated to develop Alberta’s Counter Terrorism Crisis Management Plan. With the support of the EUB and other agencies, a committee composed of representatives from the Solicitor General and Municipal Affairs developed the plan.

Aside from the logistics necessary to this type of document, it was also necessary to identify which agencies would be involved, resolve any areas of overlap between jurisdictions, and ensure local authorities had the capacity to respond.

The EUB regulates all energy and power facilities within Alberta except those that cross provincial or national borders (which are regulated by the National Energy Board). To ensure public safety was protected, the two regulators worked collaboratively to establish strong and clear guidelines for cooperation, information sharing and coordination of activities.

In addition, the EUB worked with local police to develop an effective and tightly managed response protocol for police and provincial and national agencies.

The plan outlines threat-mitigation strategies, identifies critical infrastructure, establishes five threat levels, and implements certain requirements from operators of any critical infrastructure.

There are many different types of facilities – oilsands, mine, electrical generation, gas or oilsands processing, transmission line, pipeline, petrochemical plant or refinery – that can be designated as critical infrastructure.

Facilities with this designation must develop a critical infrastructure plan. The EUB initially inspects all of these facilities, and once compliance is achieved, issues a yearly certificate. Plans may be audited by the EUB at any time if it is deemed necessary.

The five threat levels are: no threat, low threat, medium threat, high threat and imminent threat. Most critical infrastructure sites conduct everyday operations at level two or three.

Threat notification to the EUB comes from the Security and Information Management Unit (SIMU) of the Solicitor General or Emergency Management Alberta, and specific information about a threat from the SIMU, Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) or the RCMP. These intelligence networks, to which the EUB is closely linked, are vital to preserve the integrity of EUB and industry protocols and plans.

The EUB then confirms the threat level with the facility operator and reviews the plan of action. Based on the level, the operator then implements its threat mitigation plan.

If the response is not appropriate, the EUB has discretion to order an operator to implement security measures or take any action deemed necessary to implement threat mitigation strategies. If the threat is considered high or imminent, the EUB may order the facility to shut down and recover any costs associated with that action from the operator.

To ensure local police and emergency responders have the built-in capability to respond appropriately in case of an elevated threat, operators are required to consult with local authorities, such as RCMP, municipal police force, emergency medical services, and fire departments.

The EUB understands that no plan can anticipate and prepare for every situation. But through cooperation and collaboration, Alberta has developed an effective crisis response plan that will ensure public safety to the highest degree possible during any terrorist threat.

Neil McCrank is chairman of the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board. Over almost 20 years with the Alberta Department of Justice, he served as a special prosecutor, assistant deputy minister, deputy attorney general and deputy minister.