Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

February 13, 2006

Las Vegas UASI funding cut assessed

Filed under: Risk Assessment,State and Local HLS — by Christian Beckner on February 13, 2006

Since the release of the list of UASI grant cities for FY 2006 in early January, I’ve been frequently wondering why Las Vegas was left off the list. This Las Vegas Sun story attempts to provide an answer:

The answer is classified, bottled up in files at the Homeland Security Department. But interviews with more than two dozen security experts and federal and state authorities found some likely answers, numerous suggestions and a large dose of incredulity. “If they are going to include Fort Lauderdale (Fla.), they should have included Las Vegas,” said Tanya DeGenova, a former FBI counterterrorism agent, now a security consultant. “It definitely should be ranked higher than Cleveland. And Las Vegas is going to make a much bigger statement than Cincinnati.”

The article provides a number of competing hypotheses, for example:

A Rand study looked at 47 cities and ranked them in a number of ways. Any terrorism risk predictions should rely on various kinds of analyses, Rand’s Henry Willis said. Three important assessments from Rand offer clues to the omission of Las Vegas:

It ranked last among the 47 cities in a factor called “density weighted population,” essentially a combined measure of both total population and population density.

Under this analysis, Las Vegas’ vast suburbanlike sprawl would make a terrorist strike on a single location here less damaging than in a city of high rises.

Asked if that calculation included the 300,000 people found in the Strip corridor on any given weekend, Willis said it didn’t. It’s based on U.S. Census data of the permanent population.

“That’s a very good point,” he said.

Using the visitor factor, the calculation for Las Vegas would change, as it would for any tourist-destination city.

This could be a contributing factor. Although the DHS FAQ on the UASI grants indicates that they accounted for transient (i.e. tourist) populations this year, so perhaps not.

Whatever it is, there clearly is something wrong with the model in this case, as I’ve stated previously. Given the fact that every terror expert quoted in the story found this to be an obviously wrong decision, perhaps there needs to be an increased role for expert ratings in the UASI risk assessment process.

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