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New Jersey Funding Rewards Cities for Cybersecurity Prep

Questions that have been recently added on to New Jersey’s annual best-practices survey will reward municipalities that are prepared to deal with cyberattacks and also with extreme weather events.

by Lisa Broadt, Burlington County Times / October 23, 2019
Shutterstock/Michael Traitov

(TNS) — New questions on New Jersey's annual, best-practices survey will reward municipalities that are prepared for cyberattacks and extreme weather events.

The questions represent a shift in focus for the annual questionnaire, which impacts the amount of state aid municipalities receive and traditionally has focused on financial accountability.

And yet, the shift is hardly surprising under the current administration. Gov. Phil Murphy has vowed to fight climate change and earlier this year launched an initiative to train government officials in using new technologies.

A number of other new questions added to the 2019-2020 best-practices survey place an emphasis on shared-services agreements, another focus for Murphy's administration. Earlier this year, the Democratic governor outlined a $10 million plan to promote shared services and government consolidation.

The survey — conducted by the state Department of Community Affairs — is intended to help the state assess whether municipalities are complying with certain laws and implementing best fiscal and operational practices.

Local governments stand to lose up to 5% of their state aid if they score poorly or do not submit responses, though such scores are highly unusual, according to recent, statewide data provided by the DCA. The majority of Burlington County municipalities have consistently lost none or 1% of their funding.

This year's 84-question survey reveals a new emphasis on emergency preparedness — both in real life and online.

For example, new cybersecurity questions address whether local governments:

– Have a cybersecurity incident response plan that addresses cybercrime, data loss and service outages;

– Perform daily computer backups to off-network devices for all data files;

– Employ defensive software to protect against cyberattacks, including an email anti-virus filter and a firewall designed to block unauthorized network access;

– Provide training for municipal employees in malware detection, password construction and other cybersecurity issues.

Local governments are also asked whether they have a written policy establishing guidelines on social media use.

In addressing extreme-weather events, the survey asks municipalities whether they have:

– Established a dedicated storm recovery reserve fund;

– Updated their master plan and zoning ordinances within the last two year to "improve resiliency in the face of extreme weather events";

– Taken steps to reduce storm water runoff

Among the questions dropped this year was one meant to crack down on local governments providing health benefits to part-time employees and officials.

Other questions — such as whether municipalities were reporting contracts over $2 million to the state comptroller — were "retired" because they have become established, consistent practices for local governments, according to the DCA.

©2019 Burlington County Times, Willingboro, N.J. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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