Why the State Department Needs Better Threat-Risk Assessments

Obviously, the tragedy in Libya this week focused the world’s attention, not just on the bodies of our countrymen returning home, but made me wonder about the risk assessments and threat assessments that are routinely done in these extremely sensitive locations.

Unfortunately, the threat assessments tend to be more political forecasting and less about the reality of the situation on the ground.  One problem with these simple manual threat/risk assessments is that they take too long to complete.  Maybe they spend a few days looking at the physical controls, and then a week writing up a report, and much of it may rely on anecdotal incidents or reports of questionable value.

That’s why I am a believer in automating these threat/risk assessments, and in a potentially dangerous area like the whole country of Libya, they should be at least weekly, or bi-weekly, or even daily when tensions are running high.  It allows you to get a quick assessment in less than 30 minutes, and allows for quick updating, which is critical in situations like this week.

And no, I don’t believe a threat/risk assessment would necessarily PREVENT a terrible tragedy like the death of an American Ambassador, but I do think that having these updated assessments allows for safeguards to be continuously checked, measured and improved, and also may expose weaknesses that can be exploited by a terrorist group when the opportunity presents itself.

The practice of running continual assessments is not used very often, but when it is, it’s very effective because when the situation goes south, you already the blueprint of what to do right in front of you, and it allows better decision support under such stressful conditions.

The information-sharing done by different groups can be wrapped up in the risk assessment and combined, so that maybe a higher threat condition can be identified, in time to relocate, leave the country, or whatever else it takes to protect the lives of our diplomatic staff.