Recognizing that a functioning national infrastructure is imperative during the COVID-19 pandemic, on March 19 the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued Guidance on the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce: Ensuring Community and National Resilience in COVID-19 Response. The intent of the guidance is to help the private sector, as well as state and local government partners, identify the industry sectors and related workers necessary to maintain essential services while responding to this health emergency.

Pursuant to the Homeland Security Act of 2002, CISA executes the DHS Secretary’s responsibilities to provide guidance to the private sector in coordinating federal efforts concerning the security and resilience of critical infrastructure in the United States. Accordingly, the following is a list of the critical infrastructure sectors, along with a select sampling of the type of workers, that DHS/CISA has identified as essential to keep operational during the COVID-19 pandemic:[1]

Health Care/Public Health

  • In addition to workers providing COVID-19 testing, research, and caregiving, identified as critical are manufacturers, technicians, logistics and warehouse operators, and distributors of: medical equipment; personal protective equipment; medical gases; pharmaceuticals; blood and blood products; vaccines; testing materials; laboratory supplies; cleaning, sanitizing, disinfecting, and sterilization supplies; and tissue and paper towel products.

Financial Services

  • The guidance identifies workers who are needed to process and maintain systems for processing financial transactions and services (e.g., payment, clearing, and settlement; wholesale funding; insurance services; and capital markets activities). Also identified are workers needed to provide consumer access to banking and lending services, including ATMs, and to move currency and payments (e.g., armored cash carriers).

Communications and Information Technology

  • Communications: Identified are workers who are focused on the maintenance of communications infrastructure–including privately owned and maintained communication systems–such as technicians, operators, and those who work for call centers, wireline and wireless providers, cable service providers, satellite operations, undersea cable landing stations, internet exchange points, and manufacturers and distributors of communications equipment.
  • Information Technology: Identified are workers responding to cyber incidents involving critical infrastructure, including medical facilities, government and federal facilities, energy and utilities, and banks and financial institutions, and personnel in other critical infrastructure categories. Also included are workers supporting the provision of essential global, national, and local infrastructure for computing services (including cloud computing services); business infrastructure; web-based services; and critical manufacturing.


  • Electricity industry workers are key, including those who maintain, ensure, or restore the generation, transmission, and distribution of electric power, including call center workers, utility workers, reliability engineers, and fleet maintenance technicians.
  • Petroleum workers are also critical, including those who cover petroleum product storage, pipelines, marine transport, terminals, rail transport, and road transport.
  • Natural and propane gas workers are identified to include those who handle natural gas security operation centers, natural gas operations dispatch, and control rooms/centers for natural gas emergency response and customer emergencies, including natural gas leak calls.

Law Enforcement, Public Safety, First Responders

  • Along with law enforcement and other emergency management related professionals, identified are workers–including contracted vendors–who maintain digital systems infrastructure supporting law enforcement and emergency service operations.

Food and Agriculture

  • Critical workers include those supporting grocery stores, pharmacies, and other retailers that sell food and beverage products. The list also includes employees of companies engaged in the production of chemicals, medicines, vaccines, and other substances used by the food and agriculture industry, including pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, minerals, enrichments, and other agricultural production aids.

Water and Wastewater

  • The list includes employees who operate and maintain drinking water and wastewater/drainage infrastructure, including workers who maintain digital systems infrastructure supporting water and wastewater operations.

Transportation and Logistics

  • Included are employees supporting or enabling transportation functions, including dispatchers, maintenance and repair technicians, warehouse workers, truck stop and rest area workers, and workers who maintain and inspect infrastructure.
  • Moreover, the list includes employees of firms providing services that enable logistics operations, including cooling, storing, packaging, and distributing products for wholesale or retail sale or use.
  • Further identified are employees of manufacturers and distributors (including service centers and related operations) of packaging materials, pallets, crates, containers, and other supplies needed to support manufacturing, packaging staging, and distribution operations.


  • Workers necessary for the manufacturing of materials and products needed for medical supply chains, transportation, energy, communications, food and agriculture, chemical manufacturing, nuclear facilities, the operation of dams, water and wastewater treatment, and emergency services are among those noted.

Hazardous Materials

  • Workers at nuclear facilities, workers managing medical waste, workers managing waste from pharmaceuticals and medical material production, and workers at laboratories processing test kits are identified.


  • Included are workers supporting chemical and industrial gas supply chains, including workers at chemical manufacturing plants, workers in laboratories, workers at distribution facilities, and workers who transport basic raw chemical materials to the producers of industrial and consumer goods, including hand sanitizers, food and food additives, pharmaceuticals, textiles, and paper products.

Defense Industrial Base

  • Among those listed are personnel working for companies, and their subcontractors, who perform under contract to the Department of Defense providing materials and services to the Department of Defense and government-owned/contractor-operated and government-owned/government-operated facilities.

Public Works

  • Workers include those who support the operation, inspection, and maintenance of essential public works facilities and operations, including bridges, water and sewer main breaks, fleet maintenance, construction of critical or strategic infrastructure, traffic signal maintenance, emergency location services for buried utilities, maintenance of digital systems infrastructure supporting public works operations, and other emergent issues.

Other Community-Based Government Operations and Essential Functions

  • Mentioned are workers to ensure continuity of building functions, as well as security staff to maintain building access control and physical security measures.
  • In addition, educators supporting public and private K-12 schools, colleges, and universities for purposes of facilitating distance learning or performing other essential functions, if operating under rules for social distancing, are noted.

As noted, the above offers a select sampling of the type of workers identified and listed by sector in DHS/CISA’s guidance. The full listing of workers by sector is available here.

Key Principles

Certain key principles underscore DHS/CISA’s guidance. Among them is that guidance and/or directives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as from State and local governments, regarding strategies for limiting disease spread should, in tandem, be incorporated by and across these critical sectors. Further, to the extent possible, workers should be encouraged to work remotely. However, when continuous remote work is not possible, businesses should enlist strategies to reduce the likelihood of spreading the disease, which include separating staff by staggering shift hours or days, and social distancing. In addition, organizations should consider the implications of business operations beyond the jurisdiction where their assets or facilities are located—businesses can have significant economic and societal impacts that are geographically distributed.

*Steven Llanes is counsel in Lowenstein Sandler’s white collar criminal defense, privacy and cybersecurity, and corporate investigations and public integrity practice groups. Previously, Llanes served as a White House appointee to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and collaborated with its Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.  

To see our prior alerts and other material related to the pandemic, please visit the Coronavirus/COVID-19: Facts, Insights & Resources page of our website by clicking here.

[1] DHS/CISA notes that this list is advisory in nature. It is not, nor should it be considered, a federal directive or standard in and of itself.