Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

February 18, 2014

Something thoughtful about risk and homeland security

Filed under: Risk Assessment — by Christopher Bellavita on February 18, 2014

Would you like to brush up on your understanding of risk models and methods as they apply to homeland security? Maybe get some new ideas?

Ted Lewis recently published a web tutorial about risk — called “Risk Methods and Models” — in the online journal, Homeland Security Affairs.

You can find the tutorial at this link.

The tutorial is a muli-media presentation that begins with a brief history of probability, chance, and risk.  Lewis describes many of the ideas used to think about risk in the homeland security enterprise.  The tutorial surveys a variety of risk models and assessment methods, such as a priori, a posteriori, and conditional probability; expected utility theory using probabilistic risk analysis; long-tailed exceedence, and Bayesian models; and network risk in complex systems.

I vaguely knew what some of those words meant before I went through the tutorial.  I can’t say I can now explain all those ideas to someone else.  I found most of the presentation clear to a fault, but it is not a tutorial you go through once.  At least I couldn’t.

Maybe the most controversial part of the tutorial is the discussion of modern thinking about risk as it applies to networked systems like power grids, the Internet, and other critical infrastructures. I say “controversial” because I know of at least one knowledgable expert who’s said the information Lewis present is not accepted by the field at large.

He may be right.  But when I first heard the criticism, I thought about what Buckminster Fuller said about how to change ideas:

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality.
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

Homeland security has been trying to get consensus about risk for as long as I can remember.  I think Lewis wants to make mainstream homeland security ideas about risk obsolete.

According to Lewis, people who go through his 5 page tutorial (OK, 5 Internet pages, so don’t be thinking 8 by 10) “will be able to assess risk methods, understand limitations and applicability of those methods, and implement programs in risk assessment.”

If risk is something you think about, give the tutorial a try.  Check out the introductory video here:



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Comment by William R. Cumming

February 18, 2014 @ 10:50 am

Thanks Chris!

Comment by Street Cop

February 18, 2014 @ 1:50 pm

Welcome back Chris.

Comment by E. Earhart

February 18, 2014 @ 8:38 pm

Glad to see you toeing the rubber again.

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