Magazine article Security Management

Security Experts Doing the Math

Magazine article Security Management

Security Experts Doing the Math

Article excerpt

WHEN WORD LEAKED through the media that DARPA was working on a "futures market" to predict acts of terrorism back in 2003, public condemnation was so swift and severe that the project was scrapped. That experience didn't scare off the mathematics community, however. Other statistical and probability-based efforts to predict and thwart terrorism are being formulated at the Homeland Security Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events (CREATE) at the University of Southern California (USC). Here is an update:

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CBRN. Two professors at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee maintain that acts of extreme terrorism can be viewed as probabilistic events, and such probabilities can be measured even if they seldom occur and are of extreme type.

Having sifted through 600 incidents of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear attacks in search of the next large unconventional attack, the professors predict that a biological attack on the scale of the gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995--which killed 12 and sickened 5,000 people--"could occur by 2009," according to a presentation on the topic. "By 2020, an attack of that magnitude could occur about every 2 1/2 years," say the professors.

The good news is that preemptive measures may be able to reduce that likelihood. For example, the professors are looking at whether approaches used to stop SARS from spreading could help stop a bioterror attack.

Buildings. In other recently presented research, Richard G. Little, the director of the Keston Institute for Infrastructure at USC, discusses a risk management approach to protecting urban buildings from vehicle bombs. In terms of protecting buildings, "There really hasn't been much discussion of the cost-effectiveness of what we've been doing," he says.

With that in mind, Little compared the cost of various types of safety regulations with the potential cost of mandating buildings to reduce their vulnerability to vehicle bombs. …

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