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Risk Analysis of Chemical, Biological, or Radionuclear Threats: Implications for Food Security

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If the food sector is attacked, the likely agents will be chemical, biological, or radionuclear (CBRN). We compiled a database of international terrorist/criminal activity involving such agents. Based on these data, we calculate the likelihood of a catastrophic event using extreme value methods. At the present, the probability of an event leading to 5,000 casualties (fatalities and injuries) is between 0.1 and 0.3. However, pronounced, nonstationary patterns within our data suggest that the “reoccurrence period” for such attacks is decreasing every year. Similarly, disturbing trends are evident in a broader data set, which is nonspecific as to the methods or means of attack. While at the present the likelihood of CBRN events is quite low, given an attack, the probability that it involves CBRN agents increases with the number of casualties. This is consistent with evidence of “heavy tails” in the distribution of casualties arising from CBRN events.

Keywords: Biological weapons; chemical weapons; extreme value theory; food supply chain; risk assessment; terrorism

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2009-09-01

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