Risk Assessment Modeling: Beyond Exposure and Effects
Problem formulation, risk analysis, and risk characterization are, respectively, the design, estimation, and interpretation stages of risk assessment. Models traditionally have been used to estimate exposure and effects; now opportunities are growing to use them to design and interpret risk assessments as well. This could raise the level of rigor, reproducibility, and transparency in the risk assessment process, and improve the way information and expertise gets integrated to advise risk managers. The importance of good design and interpretation to the success of risk assessment and risk management, and the role of modeling in that success, is becoming increasingly apparent, but to date models are used only to a fraction of their potential. We provide two examples of the use of models to design and interpret risk assessments. The first looks at the use of models to better characterize risks by modeling uncertainties and exposure from offsite sources, and the second to forecast future risks of a new technology. Following the examples, we discuss some important obstacles to translating new modeling opportunities into practice. These include practical limits on the abilities of organizations to assimilate new tools and methods, and conceptual limits in the way people think about models.