On this Day in 2003, USC Announced CREATE’s Selection as the Nation’s First University Center of Excellence Devoted to Homeland Security
It was early 2003 when I received the notice. The newly established Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was seeking proposals for a program focused on university research centers. The very first center would be devoted to risk and economic assessment of terrorism. The center would need to take a broad perspective, considering the many ways terrorists might act, the methods they would choose and the places they might target.
As dean of research in the Viterbi School of Engineering, I was looking for ways that USC could help improve national security, addressing the kinds of threats revealed by 9/11. How could we predict the bad things that might happen in the future and how could we effectively make America safer?
I contacted Ralph Keeney, an expert in decision analysis and my colleague in the Epstein Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering. Perhaps he would like to lead a center proposal. Though he declined, his advice was the kernel for CREATE’s success. Ralph introduced me to Detlof von Winterfeldt (a mathematical psychologist specializing in risk analysis), suggesting that the two of us might want to team up on a proposal. At the time Detlof was the Deputy Dean for Research and a professor in USC’s School of Policy, Planning and Development (now the Price School of Public Policy).
Vision, Goals and Selection by DHS
Detlof and I developed the vision for CREATE, something we called the Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events. Our name tells our story. We would be objective and quantitative. We would focus on the threats posed by adversaries aiming not just to inflect immediate harm but also to invoke fear. And we would be creative, addressing the need stated in The 9/11 Commission Report to “exercise imagination” in anticipation of what an adversary might do.
CREATE’s Research Breadth
In our early years, CREATE’s entire focus was terrorism. We developed a framework for classifying threats and points of intervention. We studied adaptive behavior of adversaries, developing game theoretic and robust optimization methods, including randomized resource allocation. CREATE enhanced methodologies for estimating risk likelihoods for events that had not yet ever occurred through expert elicitation. We also investigated particular threats, including “man portable air defense” (i.e., MANPAD) missiles that could down aircraft and the economic disruption posed by dirty bombs. Our research calculated the total economic impact of 9/11, including all of the secondary ways that it altered the American economy out of human fear.
Of late, we have expanded our work to include the entirety of the DHS mission, including natural disasters (such as extreme weather and seismic events), unintentional failures and malevolent acts — utilizing risk, behavioral, decision and economic analysis — as depicted above. We have completed numerous studies on Covid-19 and its impacts on society and the U.S. economy. We have developed methods for allocating vaccines and selecting locations for vaccination centers, as well as estimated the economic consequences of Covid-19 on the U.S. economy. For all of these reasons, we are now called the Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Threats and Emergencies.
Collaboration and Looking Forward
Partnership is an essential feature of CREATE. Over the years, we have hosted four DHS secretaries. The first secretary to visit was Tom Ridge, in January of 2004, seen here with Detlof von Winterfeldt and myself. We have collaborated with the Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection, the Transportation Security Administration and most importantly DHS Science and Technology. We have worked with ports, airports and other infrastructure agencies. Currently we support DHS with our research on benefit-cost analysis and cost-effective resource allocation.
Since our initial award, CREATE has received more than $80 million in external funding, supporting research and preparing students for careers in homeland security, including our many alumni working in academia and national research labs. We continue to benefit from operational support provided by the Price School of Public Policy and the Viterbi School of Engineering. In the last year, we have widened our network through a partnership with California State University in Dominguez Hills to establish a DHS Minority Serving Institute training program. With support from the USC Office of Research, we are leading an initiative on resilience and sustainability of global supply chains.
As we mark our 20th anniversary, I am reminded that this year’s college graduates will have lived their entire lives in the aftermath of 9/11. Many years have passed since 9/11, yet terrorism remains a very real threat to our lives and livelihoods and our ability to live free of fear. Nevertheless, threats have changed over the last 20 years. The world has not just experienced terrorism but also active warfare, a catastrophic pandemic and ongoing weather and climate disasters.
In the spirit of CREATE’s founding vision for objective and creative analysis of threats to homeland security we will hold a 20th anniversary symposium on April 19 of 2024 on emerging homeland security threats. I hope you can attend. Details will follow early next year.
I look forward to hearing from you, with gratitude to the many people and organizations that have contributed to CREATE’s success.
Director of CREATE
Posted December 8, 2023