There have been many efforts in the past to confront the uncertainties and vagaries of futurethreats, dangers, and catastrophes that come emerge in public health, in the aftermath of disasters, in controlling crime and terrorism and in protecting our material well-being. Agencies,such as, the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control, UN, Interpol, and othershave been struggling to develop means by which they can plan for these outcomes and reducetheir negative consequences. In the paper that follows, we will examine the literature on risk analysis that provides the framework for the study of threats. We will then review case studiesfrom three areas of interest (health, disasters, and terrorism) to review how relevant agencieshave addressed these problems through a risk perspective. We will then conclude with adiscussion of the merits of a common methodology for risk assessment that can be used acrossthese areas, identifying what can be shared and what is unique to the specific areas of threat.
Since the establishment of first civilizations risks and adaptive responses to risks have been theforemost concern of all societies. The earliest and simplest analyses and management of risksexercised by the priests of Mesopotamia in 3200 B.C., have experienced many structural shiftswith the development of numerical systems, probability, game theory and cost-benefitunderstanding of risks. Yet the very same problems of hunger, drought, famine and conquestwhich dominated the early societies as a byproduct of increased production, population andsettlement (McDaniels
and Small, 2004:1-11) have subsisted until now. Nonetheless thechanges in the modes, means and relations of production and the ongoing process of globalization have manifested and
themselves in a constantly transforming risk discourse.In defining risk as a global concern, the Global Risk Network describes systemic risk asthe…Potential loss or damage to an entire system as contrasted with the loss to a single unit of that system. Systemic risks are exacerbated by the interdependencies among the unitsoften because of weak links in the system. These risks can be triggered by sudden eventsor built up over time with the impact often being large and possibly catastrophic (WorldEconomic Forum, 2010:10).