From the Editors


  • Michael Greenberg,

  • Karen Lowrie

We begin the May issue with a provocative essay by David Ball and Lawrence Ball-King. Writing with a U.K. context, the authors argue that safety analysis supported by risk analysis has been ridiculed for overburdening business. Focusing on safety of recreation and public spaces, they compare a safety culture that continuously presses for the highest level of safety with one that heavily weighs the social utility of public facilities.

Three articles in this issue focus on natural hazards. Jeroen Aerts et al. modeled potential flood damage in the five boroughs of New York City. Submitted to us in April 2012, about six months before Superstorm Sandy hit the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States, the authors predicted the location of flood damage. Their simulated maps closely resemble the impacts of the actual events in New York.

Ruud Zaalberg and Cees Midden created a virtual environment to portray dike breaches. Their goal was to determine if the virtual environment elicited more coping responses from respondents than other communication options. It did.

The State of Colorado (U.S.) suffered major wildfire episodes in 2012, resulting in deaths and substantial property damage. Hannah Brenkert-Smith et al. analyzed factors that influenced public perceptions of wildfire hazards. They observed that residents were strongly influenced by the density of vegetation in the immediate vicinity.

The remaining articles in the May issue illustrate the breadth of research in risk assessment and risk management. For example, chlorine gas is ubiquitous and hazardous. Anthony Barrett and Elizabeth Casman examined the costs and benefits of sheltering in place when faced with a chlorine gas leak. Supported by the Dutch National Research Programme, Laurens Bouwer analyzed the economic consequences of climate change. The article clearly illustrates the complexity of this endeavor—including requiring estimates of changes in the hazards, exposures, and vulnerabilities, as well as adaptive capacities.

Ian Dawson, Johnnie Johnson, and Michelle Luke examined the relationship between alcohol and tobacco smoking in order to test the effectiveness of messages about synergistic risks. Using an experimental design, they observed that providing details about the mechanisms of carcinogenesis and probabilistic information were effective at helping people understand the combined impacts of both. Carla Fugas, Silvia Silva, and Jose Meli examined safety behaviors among Portuguese rail workers. Their objective was to understand factors that motivate safe behaviors. The authors observed that a strong safety culture imperative among co-workers is important, a finding that is consistent with best practices in industrial and construction work places.

Our capacity to generate likelihood estimates from different data sets and assumptions has expanded, leading to interesting challenges. For example, recognizing the proliferation of estimates, Stephen Hora suggests rules for aggregating different estimates. Clemence Rigau et al. built models that follow variability in food risks from the farm to the dinner table. Their approach, they find, reduces uncertainty.

If you have displayed risk information on a map, then you know that colors, symbols, and contours can cause enormous differences in perception. Dolores Severtson and Jeffrey Myers provided multiple map options to 826 university students and found that strong visual features and shading had the strongest impacts on risk perceptions.

Governments spend a great deal of money protecting aircraft against terrorist attacks, so much so that some assert that other transport modes by comparison are less secure. Mark Stewart and John Mueller use cost-benefit analysis to evaluate three options for reducing the likelihood of a successful terrorist attack on aircraft. They find that all three options can reduce risk, and that the results are strongly influenced by the probability of attack estimates.

As someone who has worked at nuclear, chemical waste, and chemical weapons sites, the EIC is familiar with deer and other mammals being used to monitor contaminant spread. Lawrence Tannenbaum et al. used global positioning system technology to track deer, and the authors conclude that deer are not useful to track for ecological risk assessments.

Special note from EIC: This is my last issue as EIC. When Karen and I became editors, we focused on converting from bimonthly to monthly publication of the journal and took steps toward ultimately accommodating more than 2,000 published pages a year. Having achieved those objectives, we have concentrated on broadening the variety of publishing forms, encouraging submissions from outside our traditional North American base, increasing the number of theme issues, and juxtaposing viewpoints about controversial scientific and policy topics. It has been an honor to be the EIC and prior to that, the social science area editor of this journal for more than a decade. I look forward to working with L. Anthony Cox, Jr., our new EIC, and Karen Lowrie, who will remain as our Managing Editor.