University of Southern California
CREATE - is developing computer models to analyze the risks, consequences, emergency response, and economics of terrorism. Our models are used to evaluate a wide range of threats to optimize our investments in counter-terrorism.


Case Studies:

Part of CREATE's research strategy is the use of threat assessments which exercise its core capabilities. These case studies integrate research among many of our projects, which are summarized in the following section.

CREATE currently has three integrated model applications underway. Our assessment areas of focus are Ports, Commercial Aircraft and Critical Infrastructure/Electricity. CREATE has just embarked on year two case studies which focus on three key areas where DHS faces strategic decisions on investments in terrorist countermeasures. These include Borders & Customs, Biological Weapons and Allocation of Funds Across Threats and Targets.


Port Attack (Lead: von Winterfeldt)

An attack on a major port, for example by using a dirty bomb or by attacking an LNG tanker, can have massive consequences, both in terms of immediate lives lost and in terms of the long term impacts resulting from port closures. Preliminary economic estimates of the closure of the Long Beach and Los Angeles ports in 2003 due to a strike suggest economic costs in the neighborhood of $1 billion per day.

We are currently planning to explore and simulate the consequences of a dirty bomb attack on LA harbor, similar to the scenario of TOPOFF II (the simulated dirty bomb attack in downtown Seattle). The effect of a dirty bomb attack would be immediate fatalities due to the explosion, the radioactive contamination of a wide perimeter in the port, the inability to operate this area of the port for a prolonged period, the possibility of workers not returning to the port due to the fear of exposure to radioactivity. All these lead to a shutdown of part or the whole port with major economic consequences.

The port case study will include contributions from all modeling areas, including:

  • Risk analysis to develop plausible sources of radioactive materials, means of delivery of the dirty bomb, and effects in terms of immediate fatalities and contaminated zones (Bier, John, von Winterfeldt)
  • Consequence assessment to model the degree of long term contamination, delayed health effects through airborne radioactive particulates, cost of decontamination, etc. (Bier and von Winterfeldt, with assistance from Sandia experts with knowledge in modeling the health effects of airborne radionuclides)
  • Emergency response modeling to determine the effectiveness of quick deployment of rescue and decontamination crews. (Larson)
  • Economic modeling to determine the impacts of shutting down the port for extended periods of time.

Following this analysis, we will also investigate the cost-effectiveness of various countermeasures, for example, the use of improve radiological detection devices in port access areas.


MANPAD Attack (Lead: Hall)

Man Portable Aerial Defense (MANPAD) weapons pose a serious threat to commercial aircraft due to the large number of weapons in circulation and due to their effectiveness in destroying aircraft. While no such attack is believed to have occurred on U.S. soil, an unsuccessful attack occurred in Kenya in 2003, and several successful attacks are believed to have occurred in Africa in prior decades. The Department of Homeland Security has made initial investments in prototypes and system engineering for aircraft-mounted devices to counter the MANPAD threat. Our goal is to complete a broader system-level analysis of the MANPAD threat, along with an analysis of the range of strategies available to counter the threat.

The MANPAD case study will include contributions from all modeling elements, including:

  • Risk analysis to develop plausible attack scenarios, defined by location, weapon technology, target and timing. Risk analysis will also survey the preparedness of governmental agencies and private organizations for responding to the MANPAD threat. (Bier)
  • Consequence assessment to model the impact on aircraft as well as the ground impact of an attacked aircraft. Consequence assessment will also include analysis of the impacts on the airspace in the minutes and hours immediately following an attack. (Masri, Caffrey, MacGregor)
  • Emergency response to include the deployment and management of response personnel should an aircraft crash as the result of a MANPAD attack. (Larson, Tambe, Neumann)
  • Economic analysis of the impact on the airline industry and more generally on the economy in the event of a threat or a successful attack. (Lave)

Following this analysis we will also investigate the cost-effectiveness of various countermeasures, for example on-board countermeasures to deflect surface-to-air missiles or surface surveillance.


Prolonged Disruption of a Regional Electrical System (Lead:Zimmerman)

The recent blackout in the north-east region of the United Stares has once again shown the vulnerability of our electrical system. This case study would analyze the impacts of a prolonged terrorist attack on a regional electricity system and its consequences on other parts of the regional infrastructure and the economy as a whole.

The critical infrastructure case study will involve all modeling areas, including:

  • Risk analysis to develop scenarios that would be most effective in disabling a regional electricity system for an extended period Ð e.g., for several weeks. A possible scenario is a three-pronged attack on a base load facility, especially a nuclear power plant, combined with disabling several transmission substations, combined with repeated attacks on transmission towers. (Schuler, von Winterfeldt)
  • Consequence assessment to trace the multiple and cascading effects of the prolonged electricity failure on other parts of the regional infrastructure system, including the transportation system (undergrounds, trains), the water supply and waste water system (pump failures), and the communications system. (Schuler, O'Rourke, Paswell, Zimmerman)
  • Emergency response modeling to determine the effectiveness to bring the electrical system back up and to respond to the cascading impacts (Schuler, O'Rourke, Zimmerman with Larson)
  • Economic modeling to determine the economic impact of prolonged power failures (Smith and Lave)


CREATE will work with DHS borders and customs protection to assess global strategies for protecting our borders against importation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) while maintaining our competitiveness in international trade. We will examine a comprehensive set of strategies, including methodologies for screening and inspecting cargo, operational improvements that promote participation in trusted shipper programs, and a comprehensive examination of the alternative methods for shipping goods into the United States. A particular focus will be protecting the nation against importation of nuclear materials and weapons.

Primary faculty contributors to this case study will be: James Moore, Peter Gordon, Richard John, Harry Richardson, Milind Tambe, Detlof von Winterfeldt (USC) and Richard Larson (SDC). Rae Zimmerman from NYU will take the lead in assessing the policy implications of changes in borders and customs regulations from both a national and international perspective.


CREATE will work with DHS and HHS to examine strategies for protecting the nation against biological weapons. Our focus will be on investments in pharmaceutical development, stockpiling of pharmaceuticals, and distribution and dispensing of pharmaceuticals in the event of a biological attack. We will develop methodologies for assessing the economic costs of biological attacks and we will develop methodologies to minimize economic losses and mortalities in the event of an attack.

Primary faculty contributors to this case study will be: Randolph Hall, Maged Dessouky, and Fernando Ordonez (USC). We have also identified Dr. Michael Nichol from USC’s Pharmaceutical Economics and Policy program as a contributor to this case study in developing economic consequence models for biological attacks.


CREATE will work with DHS to develop methodologies for risk and economic based allocation of funds among a portfolio of alternatives, with application to distribution of federal and state funds among localities, as well as to investment decisions for pharmaceutical development. Our focus will be on developing tools that can estimate relative reductions in risk associated with investments among a set of alternatives, and to interactions among investments in alternative areas.

Primary faculty contributors to this case study will be: Vicki Bier, Larry Bank, Larry Samuelson (Wisconsin), Kerry Smith (NCSU) and Raphael Bostic & Detlof von Winterfeldt (USC).

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