On the Concept and Definition of Terrorism Risk

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In this article, we provide some reflections on how to define and understand the concept of terrorism risk in a professional risk assessment context. As a basis for this discussion we introduce a set of criteria that we believe should apply to any conceptualization of terrorism risk. These criteria are based on both criteria used in other areas of risk analysis and our experience with terrorism risk analysis. That is, these criteria offer our perspective. We show that several of the suggested perspectives and definitions have weaknesses in relation to these criteria. A main problem identified is the idea that terrorism risk can be conceptualized as a function of probability and consequence, not as a function of the interactions between adaptive individuals and organizations. We argue that perspectives based solely on probability and consequence should be used cautiously or not at all because they fail to reflect the essential features of the concept of terrorism risk, the threats and attacks, their consequences, and the uncertainties, all in the context of adaptation by the adversaries. These three elements should in our view constitute the main pillars of the terrorism risk concept. From this concept we can develop methods for assessing the risk by identifying a set of threats, attacks, and consequence measures associated with the possible outcome scenarios together with a description of the uncertainties and interactions between the adversaries.

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