A Dynamic Portrayal of Public Decision Making During Recovery form a Biological Terrorist Attack on a Major U.S. City

Heather Rosoff, University of Southern California, CREAT, Richard John, University of Southern California, Depar, William Burns, Decision Research, Robert Siko, University of Southern California, CREAT


A large-scale biological terrorist attack would result in mass casualties and have major economic consequences for the affected area, and potentially for the nation as a whole. The extent to which an impacted area recovers from such losses depends in large part on the decision making of local residents. In this study we utilize scenario simulation, a methodology that uses video simulation of a news report to immerse respondents in the details and consequences of a biological terrorist attack. Specifically, we explore the decision-making of local residents to a large-scale terrorist attack using weaponized anthrax in the Seattle, Washington area. The scenario was based on one of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s National Planning Scenarios. This study focuses on structuring a decision model around the objectives and motivations that shape local residents’ decisions to act during recovery from an anthrax attack. The relevant uncertainties and objectives that drive residents’ decisions during response and recovery from the anthrax attack were developed using live group scenario simulations with various stakeholders in Seattle. In the beginning stages of the crisis concerns about health predominate. Later concerns about financial security emerge. Throughout it appears that residents weigh their concerns for safety with the collective costs of leaving the Seattle area. The decision model produces several key insights that are critical to the development and implementation of recovery policies. A causal loop diagram is also presented that depicts the dynamic nature of this decision process.


terrorist anthrax attack; scenario simulation; public decision making

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