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Title: A risk worth taking? : analysing the adequacy of response to bomb threats
Author: Dwyer, Adrian Stephen
ISNI:       0000 0004 5372 9719
Awarding Body: University of Glasgow
Current Institution: University of Glasgow
Date of Award: 2015
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The subject of this study is that of bomb threat risk communication; a ‘sensitive’ topic because of its association with counter-terrorism policy. It is also a subject that has not generated extensive empirical research but is, nevertheless, affected by strongly-held and competing worldviews. The majority of bomb threats are identified, ultimately, as the work of ‘cranks’, ‘pranksters’ or ‘jokers’ (FBI, 2012; CPNI, 2010) but a smaller number have resulted in the adverse event that was threatened - although not always within the temporal or spatial parameters specified by the threat actor (MI5, 2005: 30). Risk management advice intended to inform a decision-making process is located in the collective views of subject matter experts and within this ‘orthodoxy’ the dominant view is that, under conditions of uncertainty, when “vital binary decisions need to be made” (Blackett Review, 2011), the ‘safest’ option is to assume the validity of the terrorist threat. Available evidence suggests that this position is disproportionate and risk averse; specifically, that the assessment of risk fails to take sufficient account of deliberate deception on the part of the threat actor or potential misinterpretation of the message communicated. Research presented here considers the extent to which the literature on the subject supports the orthodoxy. It identifies the risk management response as one founded on a principle of precaution and which has become symptomatic of a “wicked problem” (Rittel and Webber, 1973) - where some elements are addressed in great detail whilst others, integral to risk management decision-making, are circumvented or excluded. This research addresses the absence of published data concerning bomb threats as a tactic of terrorists and expands upon the findings of the very small number of studies concerned exclusively with ‘hoaxing’. It analyses a unique dataset collected by the author comprising of a total sample of 7595 threat events directed at Britain’s railway network and spanning almost a quarter of a century; and uses qualitative data from secondary sources to contextualise the incidents (hoax and real) located. The study also analyses a second sample drawn from 328 ‘newsworthy’ incidents: all of which were hoaxes. By considering hoax and valid threat events within the same study, the findings raise a substantial challenge to the tenets of the bomb threat orthodoxy; particularly the worldview within which to “brave the bomb threat” (HSE, 1992: 27) is characterised as a risk ‘not worth taking’.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: H Social Sciences (General)