Take steps to protect against shoulder fired missiles, say operations research experts

Paper in the Journal Decision Analysis suggests calculating factors such as risk to the economy and likelihood of a terrorist attack

Hanover, Md., July 17, 2006--After the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, the airline industry suffered a drop in passenger volume that is still felt today. Passengers declined by 20 percent in the first year and 10 percent in the second year. Together, the estimated economic impact totaled between $80 billion and $250 billion.

What would the impact be if a terrorist took out just one plane with a shoulder-fired missile? It could be as high as $250 billion, according to a report published in the upcoming issue of the INFORMS publication Decision Analysis and authored by Detlof von Winterfeldt and Terrence M. O'Sullivan of the Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events (CREATE) at the University of Southern California.

There are steps airlines could take to prevent such attacks, such as installing countermeasures on planes to deflect heat-seeking missiles, but they could cost the airline industry as much as $10 billion for installation and another $2.5 billion per year for operation and maintenance. Using the principles of Operations Research (O.R.) and taking into account such factors as the economic impact, likelihood of an attack and the cost of the countermeasures themselves, von Winterfeldt and O'Sullivan concluded that the preventative steps may be worth taking.

Still, the issue isn't so cut and dry. Other factors come into play, such as the true cost of countermeasures--estimates vary depending on the source--and the possibility of terrorists changing tactics once the countermeasures are in place. The O.R. model the authors created can be easily refitted as additional information becomes available, offering a tool to help policymakers make better decisions in reacting to threats.


To speak with von Winterfeldt or O'Sullivan on the report and the conclusions, or to speak with an overall Operations Research expert, please contact Chuck Tanowitz or Jennifer Roedel at Schwartz Communications at (781) 684-0770 or by email at [email protected].

The Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS®) is an international scientific society with 10,000 members, including Nobel Prize laureates, dedicated to applying scientific methods to help improve decision-making, management, and operations. Members of INFORMS work in business, government, and academia. They are represented in fields as diverse as airlines, health care, law enforcement, the military, financial engineering, and telecommunications. The INFORMS website is www.informs.org. More information about Operations Research is at www.scienceofbetter.org.

Last updated: 30 Apr 2016
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Apr 2016
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