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Security Metrics for Integrated Risk and Vulnerability Assessments

Security metrics are often based upon different social actors’ more or less subjective and value-laden estimates rather than on objective observations and analyses. In addition, different research traditions represent different positions in terms of our capacities to objectively observe phenomena, structure information, and produce knowledge valid for all – cf. how the causes of climate change as well as of suburban unrest are contested issues.

Ways in which threats and insecurities, risks and vulnerabilities, are discursively constructed – in everyday life conversations and in the media as well as in research – have a direct impact upon how various forms of crises and emergencies are understood and managed. While statistical methods can bring high reliability, e.g. political framing or lack of solid and accepted knowledge with regard to the area to be acted upon might mean that even statistically reliable results lack validity. This brief contextualization indicates a set of essential challenges to security metrics:

  • Statistically reliable results concerning safety and security may nonetheless lack validity with regard to actual causality within a certain system or otherwise delimited area of reality
  • There is no metrics which supports decision-making with regard to comparative efficiency of measures taken to improve human safety and security (can valid comparisons be made between e.g. long-term globally sustainable food supply policies; new military technologies; organizational reforms of crises management authorities; increased funding of youth programs; revised policies and legislation such as ‘tough-on-crime’, etc.?)
  • Can research and knowledge support a ‘common ground’ of shared values (default parameters) for establishing a complex comparative operative metrics that serve robust generic forms of long-term sustainable and democratic safety and security?
  • Are metric tools needed and can they be developed for translating different qualitative presuppositions and objectives into useful integrated methods for quantitative safety and security metrics?

The risk and vulnerability assessments to be developed according to Swedish law by County Administrative Boards and municipalities range across five dimensions: 1) nature and weather related events; 2) accidents; 3) social risks and antagonistic threats; 4) technical infrastructure and support systems; and 5) infectious diseases.

In terms of understanding these events and issues, knowledge of the world as a whole seems to be involved, including above mentioned contested issues such as climate change and suburban unrest. In making such assessments legally mandatory, the Swedish parliament is directly linked to the quest of modern societies since the 18th century to effectively manage the population – in the present intimately connected to overarching international political commitments with regard to human rights, freedom of expression, and an increasing awareness of effects of unsustainable forms of resource use and production as well as the three dimensions of sustainability, etc.

Simultaneously, private businesses active in the safety and security market and seeking to produce competitive services and products for decision support need to develop and evaluate these in relation to real world situations and demands from those governmental and legislative bodies that regulate the area, and which thus directly or indirectly specify in which fields decision support tools are needed and/or possible.

In disassembling this Russian doll of nested relations, the specific empirical focus of this limited project on security metrics will be analysis of:

  • The advisory documents published by the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) that guide Swedish public authorities in developing according to Swedish law mandatory risk and vulnerability assessments; and, possibly, those policy documents, legislation and legally binding nation-state directives upon which these advisory documents are founded, and;
  • Actual risk and vulnerability assessments as developed, on the one hand, by the County Administrative Boards, and, on the other, by municipalities – limited in this explorative study to the case of Västra Götaland county, and the City of Gothenburg, respectively

Given this, the specific objectives of this project are twofold:

  • Design issues: How can the studied models for assessing and measuring risks and vulnerabilities be developed and improved, refined or reformed? This question concerns: selection of indicators; validity and reliability of indicators in relation to particular identified ‘system components’, ‘risks’ or ‘vulnerabilities’; the balancing/weighing of indicators’ relative importance in synthesized assessments that are to function as tools for prioritization/decision-making, etc.
  • Parameter analysis: How can the foundations – i.e. the relevance and normative impact – of default values be assessed and how can thus the selection of a particular set of parameters be justified? These questions concern two facts: first, models for assessing and measuring risks and vulnerabilities, be they technical or social, are logically bound to set default values in relation to which indicators can be identified and scales for failure and success be constructed, etc.; and, second, models and tools for security metrics are unavoidably dependent upon and justified in multiple, e.g. policy, contexts.

The research team was led by assistant professor Michael Landzelius, Urban Safety and Societal Security Research Center (URBSEC), University of Gothenburg (GU) and Chalmers. Project collaboration involved researchers from the departments of Sociology and Work Science, GU (professor Sven-Åke Lindgren); Journalism, Media and Communication (ph.D. Gabriella Sandstig), GU; Computer Science and Engineering (professor Erland Jonsson), Chalmers and GU; and Energy and Environment (professor Sverker Molander and assistant professor Ulrika Palme), Chalmers, as well as the County Administrative Board of Västra Götaland and the Saab Group. Funding: Security Arena, Lindholmen Science Park.

Page Manager: Mats Ekström|Last update: 10/8/2015

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