Air transportation securityModeling terrorism risk to the air transportation system

Published 12 December 2012

RAND recently evaluated a terrorism risk modeling tool developed by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Boeing to help guide program planning for aviation security; the Risk Management Analysis Tool, or RMAT, simulates terrorist behavior and success in attacking vulnerabilities in the domestic commercial air transportation system, drawing on estimates of terrorist resources, capabilities, preferences, decision processes, intelligence collection, and operational planning

RAND recently evaluated a terrorism risk modeling tool developed by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Boeing to help guide program planning for aviation security.

The Risk Management Analysis Tool, or RMAT, simulates terrorist behavior and success in attacking vulnerabilities in the domestic commercial air transportation system, drawing on estimates of terrorist resources, capabilities, preferences, decision processes, intelligence collection, and operational planning. It describes how the layers of security protecting the air transportation system are likely to perform when confronted by more than sixty types of attacks, drawing on detailed blast and other physical modeling to understand the damage produced by different weapons and attacks, and calculating expected loss of life and the direct and indirect economic consequences of that damage.

RAND says its researchers found that parts of the model provide credible and useful estimates of the performance of components of the aviation security system, for instance the probability that specific weapon types will be detected by TSA’s passenger checkpoints. The tool has also proven to be valuable to the TSA in driving a more sophisticated understanding of terrorism risks to the air transportation system.

The authors find the model has some gaps, however, including:

  • Even if the conceptual models on which RMAT is built were sound and comprehensive, the input data requirements exceed what subject matter experts or science can estimate with precision, and the imprecision of those estimates is subject to unknown sources and ranges of error.
  • RMAT may not be well suited for the kinds of exploratory analysis required for high-stakes decision support, because of its reliance on a large number of uncertain parameters and conceptual models.
  • RMAT does not provide a sufficiently broad depiction of the range of threats, vulnerabilities, attack pathways, and consequences to correctly describe terrorism risk to the U.S. commercial aviation system.

The authors conclude that TSA should not treat RMAT results as credible estimates of terrorism risk to the aviation system but can use those results to better understand some characteristics of terrorism risk and to explore possible influences of system changes on that risk.

— Read more in Modeling Terrorism Risk to the Air Transportation System: An Independent Assessment of TSA’s Risk Management Analysis Tool and Associated Methods (RAND, 2012)

 

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