Module 1Infrastructure disruptions > Critical infrastructure

Communities rely on several sectors and trusted local groups in everyday life. The Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency lists 16 critical infrastructure sectors vital to the United States:


 The COVID-19 pandemic strained several sectors and compelled their workers to adapt to new safety protocols and demands even as they continued to serve the public. Public health agencies hired more workers and diverted existing personnel to contact tracing and other efforts to slow the spread of the virus; hospitals dealt with personal protective equipment shortages; and in hotspots, faced capacity concerns, rapidly expanding intensive care units and preparing additional venues as contingency plans. On public transportation, general ridership plummeted, transportation workers faced significant risk of exposure, and many other essential workers continued to depend on public transit to travel to and from their place of employment. The pandemic also challenged every stage of the food supply chain from farms to grocery stores. COVID-19 compelled several sectors and their workers to adapt to new safety protocols and demands even as they continued to serve the public.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, trusted local groups and institutions stepped up to fill gaps in times of crisis. These organizations, such as a local food bank or faith-based organization, often already are important community connection points and are able to scale up efforts to support basic needs, promote connectedness, and provide opportunities for coping and problem solving. The importance of these groups has been documented in other instances as well. In comparing adjacent neighborhoods with similar income levels and demographics, Dr. Eric Klinenberg’s research on the Chicago heat wave of 1995 finds that the presence of strong “social infrastructure - the physical places and organizations that shape how people interact” - is associated with substantially fewer fatalities. Watch this webinar to learn more about Klinenberg’s research, and hear about public policy initiatives to build social connectedness. These findings speak to the importance of strengthening communities’ social infrastructure in advance of disaster and resourcing local organizations’ ability to respond when disasters occur.

Reflection question: Whether or not your sector is listed as a critical infrastructure sector, what roles does or could your sector play during catastrophic events?


Social connection is a known protective factor against injuries and violence, including self-harm and suicide. Connecting with others provides a sense of belonging and community. It’s also an important way to reduce stress. But the COVID-19 pandemic made it harder than ever to stay connected while practicing physical distancing. The following are examples of how organizations and agencies responded quickly to better support social connections and their community members at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • In Chicago, 200 street outreach workers expanded their efforts beyond preventing community violence. As trusted community members, they mobilized to share health information about COVID-19, while maintaining safe distances and adhering to public health protocols.

  • In Fresno, CA, Mujeres Poderosas Amorosas used its network driven by Latina immigrants to connect seniors and younger neighbors to ensure seniors received regular check-ins and help in picking up groceries, medicine or other basic needs.

  • In Multnomah County, OR, the Healthy Birth Initiatives, Northwest Family Services, STRYVE (Striving to Reduce Youth Violence Everywhere), Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center and Rosemary Anderson High School, and the county created a video that features submissions from Black parents talking to other Black parents about their struggles and hopes during the pandemic. The video is meant to decrease shame and isolation, encourage community members to reach out to one another, and normalize the difficulties community members are experiencing while also elevating resilience and healing.


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Graphic credit: Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency

Photo credit: CC by Rick Obst