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Hitting a Moving Target: A Strategic Tool for Analyzing Terrorist Threats

Hitting a Moving Target: A Strategic Tool for Analyzing Terrorist Threats


The subject of terrorism risk can be confusing for both the general public and for those responsible for protecting us from attack. Relatively minor terrorist threats are often conflated with much more serious ones, in part because it is hard to quantify either intent or technical ability to carry out an attack. Plotting threats on a “potential mass casualties” versus “ease of obtainment or production” matrix creates some order out of a seemingly endless array of worldwide threats, and it highlights those threats that are in need of more urgent attention. The specific threats on this 2x2 matrix can fall into one or multiple quadrants, which can be qualitatively described as “most dangerous,” “dangerous but difficult,” “worrisome,” and “persistent terror.” By placing threats into these quadrants and illustrating movement within and between them, the matrix can help (1) visualize and parse a diverse set of threats, (2) view how threats have changed over time and judge the efficacy of current countermeasures, and (3) evaluate the merit of future actions and investments. Having a dynamic matrix that can visually map the comparative risk of terrorist threat events in toto and that can help us monitor the effectiveness of present and future resource investments can add intellectual rigor to some of the most difficult and daunting decisions pertaining to our nation's safety and security.

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Coleman, Ken, Noriko Ishisoko, Milana Trounce, and Kenneth Bernard. 2016. "Hitting a Moving Target: A Strategic Tool for Analyzing Terrorist Threats." Health Security 14 (November): 1-10. http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/hs.2016.0062

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