Decision Analysis

The Decision Analysis research area of CREATE is concerned with the use of rigorous models to help make sound decisions in homeland security applications. 

Topics in this area include:

  • The appropriate representation of preferences and trade-offs using multiattribute value and utility models
  • The appropriate representation of risk attitudes 
  • Modeling adversary beliefs and preferences
  • The representation of belief using joint probability distributions, and the updating of belief using Bayes’ rule
  • Group decision making
  • Framing decision situations
  • Alternative generation
  • The identification (and minimization) of the effects of cognitive biases 
  • Implementing a decision culture within an enterprise

Scroll down to read more about CREATE's work on Game Theory and Operations Research.


Dr. Detlof von Winterfeldt is a Professor at the Daniel J. Epstein Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering of the Viterbi School of Engineering and a Professor of Public Policy and Management at the Price School of Public Policy at USC. In 2004 he co-founded the National Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events (CREATE), the first university-based Center of Excellence funded by the US Department of Homeland Security. Read More.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

Dr. Richard John serves as the Associate Director for Research at CREATE, professor in the Department of Psychology at the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts & Sciences at USC and as a Research Fellow at CREATE. His research focuses on normative and descriptive models of human judgment and decision making and methodological issues in application of decision and probabilistic risk analysis (PRA). Read More.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

Dr. Robin Dillon-Merrill is a Professor in the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University and Area Coordinator for the Operations and Information Management Group. Professor Dillon-Merrill seeks to understand and explain how and why people make the decisions that they do under conditions of uncertainty and risk. Read More.


Dr. William Burns completed his Ph.D. at the University of Oregon in Decision Science and subsequently held positions as a professor at the University of Iowa and UC Davis before moving to San Diego. He is currently a research scientist at Decision Research (Eugene, OR), an institute that focuses on judgment, decision making and risk perception, and is also associated with the National Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events (CREATE at USC) where he has been named a CREATE Fellow and contributes to the risk assessment, risk perception and economic impact research. Read More.

Dr. Heather Rosoff's research focuses on using risk and decision analytic techniques to study the uncertainties surrounding terrorism. More specifically, her risk perception work assesses the public's perceived risk of disaster events (terror and non-terror) and the influence this has on behavioral decision-making. She has developed several surveys to evaluate the perceived risk relationships across disaster characteristics and to predict public behavioral responses to an event, both immediately and in the long term.  Read More.

Dr. Vicki Bier is a risk analyst and decision analyst specializing in probabilistic risk analysis for homeland security and critical infrastructure protection. Her current research interests include the application of game theory to identify optimal resource allocation strategies for protecting critical infrastructure from intentional attacks. Other interests include: the use of accident "precursors" or near misses in probabilistic risk analysis; the use of expert opinion; and methods for effective risk communication, both to decision makers and to the general public. Read More.  

Dr. Paul Slovic studies judgment and decision processes with an emphasis on decision making under conditions of risk. His work examines fundamental issues such as the influence of affect on judgments and decisions. He also studies the factors that underlie perceptions of risk and attempts to assess the importance of these perceptions for the management of risk in society. His most recent research examines psychological factors contributing to apathy toward genocide. He no longer does classroom teaching but does advise students in their research. Read More.

Sample Papers

Siebert, J., von Winterfeldt, D., John, Richard, S. 2016. Identifying and Structuring the Objectives of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Its Followers. Decision Analysis, 13(1), 26-50

Garcia, R.J.B, von Winterfeldt, D. 2016. Defender-Attacker Decision Tree Analysis to Combat Terrorism, Risk Analysis, 36(12)

Montibeller, G., von Winterfeldt, D. 2015. Cognitive and Motivational Biases in Decision and Risk Analysis, Risk Analysis, 35(7)                       

Game Theory                                                                                                                                                                                 

Security is a critical concern around the world, whether it is the challenge of protecting ports, airports and other critical national infrastructure, or protecting wildlife/forests and fisheries, or suppressing crime in urban areas. In many of these cases, limited security resources prevent full security coverage at all times. Instead, these limited resources must be allocated and scheduled efficiently, avoiding predictability, while simultaneously taking into account an adversary's response to the security coverage, the adversary's preferences and potential uncertainty over such preferences and capabilities.

Computational game theory can help us build decision-aids for such efficient security resource allocation. Indeed, casting the security allocation problem as a Bayesian Stackelberg game, we have developed new algorithms that are deployed over multiple years in multiple applications including:








Fundamentally, we are focused on the research challenges in these efforts, marrying these applications with research on topics such as (i) fast algorithms for solving massive-scale games; (ii) behavioral game theory research for addressing human adversaries who may act with bounded rationality and imperfect observations; (iii) understanding the impact of players' limited observations on solution approaches adopted. 


Operations Research

Risk Management plays a central role in DHS strategic planning. DHS has a long tradition of risk management but requires new analytic methods to address contemporary homeland security issues across multiple threat domains. The application of analytic methods to improve decision-making is the domain of Operations Research. CREATE combines Risk Management and Operations Research to develop new methods to address three key analytical challenges.

First, many problems that DHS programs are intended to solve involve adversarial competitions. This means that DHS must consider the benefits of its programs against both current risks and anticipated shifts in risks as new threats emerge of different types and in different places.

Second, because this dynamic threat environment creates many types of risk in many places, it is not appropriate to evaluate security programs in isolation. Instead, DHS programs must be evaluated within the context of how they contribute to a risk management system designed to achieve multiple goals.

Third, though risk management systems are designed to counter many types of threats, it is challenging for DHS to prevent adversaries from succeeding in all scenarios. Thus, an important aspect of risk management across DHS is the systematic incorporation of means of deterrence and dissuasion to influence adversary decisions so terrorists act in ways that are easier to detect, more difficult for them to succeed, or have easier consequence to accept.

The primary goal of this theme is to use Operations Research approaches to improve the understanding of valuation of security benefits across threat domains, the development, evaluation and integration of risk management and resource allocation applications in collaboration with DHS partners, and ultimately, to enable better, faster, more focused policy- and decision-making.