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NDSU Research Provides Approach to Assess Terrorist Threats at Port Facilities

Posted: Dec 1, 2020

A transportation expert at NDSU with expertise in computer modeling and a captain in the U.S. Navy have published research that shows how simple low-cost computer modeling techniques can be combined with practical expertise to assess the threat of terrorist attacks on port facilities.

Raj Bridgelall, NDSU assistant professor of transportation and logistics, and Navy Capt. Douglas Patterson were authors of "Attack Risk Modelling for the San Diego Maritime Facilities," which was published in the journal Marine Policy.

The model in the research used threat attraction, vulnerability and consequence to evaluate risk. Threat attraction is the relative value of loss as a result of a successful attack. Vulnerability is the likelihood that techniques used in previous port attacks could be employed successfully. Consequence is the economic impact and fatalities resulting from an attack.

Patterson's extensive knowledge of the Port of San Diego helped assign weights to the vulnerabilities as they were input into the threat model. Overall, the model showed that the threat to port facilities at San Diego were relatively small.

They found that the port's small cargo capacity relative to other California ports, a lack of hazardous cargo and the lack of petroleum, natural gas, crude oil and petrochemical processing facilities near the port reduce the risk of attack. Similarly, the lack of nearby staging areas and high levels of security also reduce the risk.

"Although simple equation-based risk assessments are less expensive and easy to apply, they might miss scenarios that represent a high risk. On the other hand, more complex models are often more expensive to apply, and they may require expertise that organizations cannot afford," Bridgelall said. "This simple approach is affordable and provides a first-order quick assessment to determine if more analysis is needed. This approach allows more frequent assessments that combat complacency and takes into account changes in vulnerabilities, terrorist strategies and port facilities."

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