Public Warnings in Counterterrorism Operations: Managing the 'Cry-Wolf' Effect when Facing a Strategic Adversary

51 Pages Posted: 12 Sep 2015 Last revised: 22 Nov 2017

See all articles by Nitin Bakshi

Nitin Bakshi

University of Utah

Edieal J. Pinker

Yale School of Management; Yale University School of Management

Date Written: November 21, 2017

Abstract

Public warnings have the potential to mitigate the threat from terrorism: the public is alerted, and in response, the terrorist may defer his attack. Paradoxically, warnings can be a victim of their own success. The absence of an attack may be misconstrued by the warning recipients as a false alarm, leading to warning fatigue and a dampened response to future warnings -- also referred to as the "cry-wolf" effect. To capture this phenomenon and examine its implications, we model the interaction between the defender and the terrorist using a dynamic game-theoretic framework. Our equilibrium results suggest that absent any political gamesmanship or incompetence, the prospect of false alarms can lead to either lengthy stretches of sustained warning, or more attacks at lower warning levels. Furthermore, we recommend that warnings and security deployment ought to be decoupled and treated as independent levers. By studying how the equilibrium shifts with changes to the parameter regime, we find that an increase in the terrorist's "readiness" can result in a lower frequency of terrorist attacks; and a rise in the cost of issuing warnings can induce more frequent warnings.

Keywords: zero-sum games, risk communication, terrorism risk, public warnings

Suggested Citation

Bakshi, Nitin and Pinker, Edieal J., Public Warnings in Counterterrorism Operations: Managing the 'Cry-Wolf' Effect when Facing a Strategic Adversary (November 21, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2659028 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2659028

Nitin Bakshi (Contact Author)

University of Utah ( email )

1655 Campus Center Drive
Salt Lake City, UT Utah 84112
United States

Edieal J. Pinker

Yale School of Management ( email )

135 Prospect Street
P.O. Box 208200
New Haven, CT 06520-8200
United States
203-436-8867 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://https://som.yale.edu/faculty/edieal-j-pinker

Yale University School of Management ( email )

New Haven, CT 06520
United States
203-436-8867 (Phone)

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