Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Threats and Emergencies
By Eric Ruble
CREATE, USC’s homeland security center, is charting new directions. Since its establishment soon after 9/11, CREATE has been the nation’s scientific hub for risk and economic analysis of terrorist risks to America’s safety and security, supported by more than $80 million in cumulative research funding.
Now, with a new name and a familiar face at the helm, CREATE is further broadening its vision. Previously known as the Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events, the center’s new moniker will more fully represent its comprehensive mission: the Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Threats and Emergencies.
Randolph Hall, CREATE’s incoming director and original co-founder along with Detlof von Winterfeldt, explained the change: “CREATE will continue to tackle risk and economics, but with an even broader scope that thinks about how to prepare for both the anticipated and hard-to-predict risks that would cause enormous consequences.”
CREATE began in 2004 as the Department of Homeland Security’s first university-based Center of Excellence; it remains headquartered at the USC Price School of Public Policy and the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. Over the years, the center has served as a non-partisan entity that provides independent, objective analysis of risks that could harm humanity and the economy.
“The center remains the national leader in risk and economic analysis of major disasters and events, including terrorism, natural disasters and technological disasters. There’s no question,” said von Winterfeldt, a Price professor who is the co-director of the USC Center for Sustainability Solutions. “There’s nobody else who can do the things that we’ve done.”
While CREATE has always been charged with examining a large range of threats, the spectrum is now wider than ever – natural disasters and climate change, as well as bioterrorism attacks, are emerging as huge risks to anticipate in years to come.
Still, the group remains steadfastly connected to its original focus of terrorism, playing a critical role in the discourse around current national security issues. One of the most pressing items today is the evolving crisis in Afghanistan following America’s withdrawal of U.S. troops.
“Afghanistan borders two nuclear powers, China and Pakistan, as well as Iran, which has aspired to develop nuclear weapons. Not only that, Russia maintains a military presence in neighboring Tajikistan. We cannot ignore both the volatility and the high stakes present in the region,” said Hall.
Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to offer a real-time example of the need for anticipatory research and analysis that goes beyond the more traditional terrorist threat. Since its emergence and global spread, massive structural and policy changes have been required in order to navigate the ongoing harm of the virus to people and the economy.
Hall shared, “At the time of our founding, 9/11 informed the world’s reaction to terrorist attacks by refocusing responses and consequences from national to international. Now, COVID-19 is providing a new framework as we anticipate future pandemics.”
“We have to consider how to better analyze and prepare governments, countries and individuals for threats that may emerge, whether intentional, like conspiratorial terrorism, natural, such as earthquakes and tsunamis, or human-influenced, such as the effects of climate change due to the results of our own decisions.”
Hall said COVID-19 has shown how ordinary individuals have enormous impact on public health – for better or worse.
“The way we communicate to individuals will need to change. For a catastrophe like COVID-19, the decisions of one person may unintentionally affect the health of many others, or even impact public health outcomes on a grander scale than previous risks,” Hall said.
CREATE pivoted quickly to study the immediate ongoing impact of COVID-19 during Adam Rose’s tenure as director, who Hall described as the “world expert on economic consequences and resilience to disasters, whether human caused or natural.”
In June 2021, Rose published research analyzing the economic toll of COVID-19 compared to 9/11 and natural disasters. He and his research team found that the virus is causing an estimated $4 trillion hit to the U.S. economy – 20 times larger than 9/11’s impact. Rose attributed much of this to mandatory business closures, slow reopenings and deferred spending; Americans waited to make purchases, which has largely contributed to the backlog in the supply chain we’re seeing today.
“There’s all this pent-up demand all of a sudden, but the supplies aren’t in sync,” Rose said.
But his research focus went beyond the virus; one of his many initiatives involved helping CREATE secure a prestigious Minerva Research Initiative grant from the Department of Defense which aims to help transportation systems recover and grow in post-conflict zones.
“Those are key to the countries getting back on their feet and further developing and stabilizing their economies, as well as helping protect them by improving military logistics and also providing humanitarian aid,” Rose said.
Even though it is an urgent topic of our times, COVID-19 is hardly the last major crisis the U.S. will face this century – or even this decade. As policymakers seek answers to threats as they arise, CREATE is eager to continue providing solutions and guidance. Hall says to fulfill that obligation, the center will welcome perspectives well beyond Price and Viterbi.
“In CREATE’s next chapter, I’m enthusiastic about reaching out to people across USC to connect new sponsors to special research projects. External groups, including faculty, staff and students, can contribute to the overall mission of our center by sharing their expertise in economics, psychology, systems engineering, computer science, data analytics and more,” Hall said.
Von Winterfeldt says Hall’s “broader vision” for CREATE will enable it to carry out its original mission while expanding its ability to study a wider array of “large-scale [events] that change significantly the nature of our society.”
CREATE’s future chapter exemplifies the importance of adaptability; just as the threats facing America have evolved since the Department of Homeland Security awarded USC with the chance to open this groundbreaking center 17 years ago, so must our academic pursuit of life-saving solutions.
On Sept. 15, CREATE is hosting a symposium about the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Experts will discuss lessons learned from the attack and how universities can contribute future efforts to enhancing homeland security. Learn more about the symposium here.
Those interested in sponsoring CREATE’s mission should contact Randolph Hall.