Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

January 30, 2006

Risk methodology overview and FAQ for UASI grants

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,Risk Assessment — by Christian Beckner on January 30, 2006

The ODP website now contains two documents that are very helpful in trying to understand the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) grant process: a “Discussion of the FY 2006 Risk Methodology” and a “Frequently Asked Questions” document. These two documents answer some of my questions about what went into the process to determine grant eligibility, a topic that I wrote about extensively at the beginning of January.

For example, the two documents provide extensive detail on the individual factors used to make these judgments (although not the relative weighting of each factor), breaking the assessment down into two key categories:

  • Asset-based risk is a function of the risk of terrorism to potential targets within a geographic area. It accounts for the combined risks associated with the various types of assets within the “footprint” of each individual grant candidate.
  • Geographically-based risk is derived from certain prevailing attributes or characteristics intrinsic to a geographical area that may contribute to its risk of terrorism.

The risk paper contains decision trees for each of these two types of risks, one of which is available at this link.

These frameworks and definitions are a valuable contribution to the body of knowledge on threat and risk assessment, and should be looked at closely by others engaged on these difficult topics.

One question that these documents don’t answer is how Las Vegas was considered to be not high risk and put it on the “cut-off list” for grant funding. In fact, in several places the documents reinforce the contention that Las Vegas’ priority on the list should have increased. For example, the methodology paper is clear that hotel casinos are one of the 38 asset types examined. And the FAQ notes the following change to the methodology from the previous year:

Including data on transient populations (e.g., tourists, business visitors, and commuters).

There are 125,000 hotel rooms in Las Vegas, i.e. at least 200,000 people visiting from out of town at any given point in time.

I believe strongly that these grant processes should be neutral and depoliticized, but this is clearly a case where the model didn’t work, and an adjustment should be made.

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