09/13/2013 07:10 pm ET Updated Nov 13, 2013

12 Years After 9/11: Understanding the Threats We Face and How Far We Have Come

Every year on September 11, we mourn the nearly 3,000 people who lost their lives that tragic day. We honor the firefighters, police officers and first responders who risked and gave their lives to save so many others. And we reflect on how far we have come as a nation in the last twelve years.

In the months and years after the attacks, the country was searching for answers. Congress created the 9/11 Commission to figure out exactly how terrorists were able to attack our homeland and give recommendations to shore up our national security and improve our emergency response. One of the problems they found was that police officers were using different radios than firefighters and couldn't communicate with each other. The Commission recommended improving public safety communications so this would never happen again.

In 2012, based on legislation I wrote, Congress fulfilled the last major recommendation of the 9/11 Commission. The communications system that we created, FirstNet, will be a state-of-the-art, high-speed wireless broadband network so first responders can communicate effectively during natural disasters or other crises.

It will take some time to build this network, but FirstNet will revolutionize the way our police officers, fire fighters, EMS workers and other state and federal first responders communicate nationwide. Our first responders risk their lives to keep Americans safe and secure. They did on 9/11, and they do every single day. They deserve the best technology available to do their jobs, and I am incredibly thankful that they'll get it.

But I wonder what additional recommendations the 9/11 Commission would suggest if it were continuing its work today. The nation faces different threats than we did on September 11, 2001.

In fact, President Obama has said the "cyber threat is one of the most serious economic and national security challenges we face as a nation." This threat didn't exist 12 years ago, but it's something that concerns us all. Much of the country's power plants, water treatment facilities, financial services, and electric grids are potentially exposed to cyber vulnerabilities that our enemies could exploit with disastrous consequences.

Most of these systems -- the nation's critical infrastructure -- are owned by private companies. So to address the threat of cyber attacks on these networks, we need a strong, lasting partnership between the public and private sectors.

This is why I introduced a bill with the ranking Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, Senator John Thune (R-SD), that would foster this partnership. Our bill would bring the federal government and private sector together to strengthen our country's ability to defend ourselves from cyber attacks. It passed out of the Commerce Committee with strong bipartisan support in July 2013.

And now, it should be passed by the full Senate. The federal government is already working closely with the private sector to develop voluntary standards for protecting their networks. But I believe the business community needs certainty that the considerable progress we have made in creating cyber defenses will continue in years to come. Our bill would provide this certainty.

The truth is we don't need a commission to recommend what the country's top military and national security officials have told us for years: it is imperative that we strengthen our nation's cybersecurity. That's why I will continue to work with my colleagues to address the key elements that will protect against cyber attacks, including information sharing.

We are fortunate to know the most critical threats we face so we can act to prevent them. But we're squandering this opportunity if we don't take these threats seriously.

We owe it to the honor of those lost that September day to do everything possible to protect our nation and future generations from another attack.