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Baruch Fischoff Selected to Advise on Homeland Security Science and Technology Committee

Citizens need, and want, to understand the risks that they face and the tradeoffs that policies make between safety, cost, privacy, and other outcomes. Officials need to know what citizens want from them and are willing to contribute to the cause.

Baruch Fischoff Selected to Advise on Homeland Security Science and Technology Committee

Geoff Mumford, Director of Science Policy, attended the inaugural meeting of the Homeland Security Science and Technology Advisory Committee (HSSTAC) on February 26. Shrouded in great secrecy and held in a remote location, the 3 hour open session drew about 2 dozen members of the public to find out who had been appointed to the 20 member advisory committee.

We were extremely pleased to see Baruch Fischhoff, the only behavioral scientist, had been appointed to the HSSTAC. Loyal SPIN readers may recall that we initiated meetings between Baruch and the Advisory Committee staff almost two years ago, after Dr. Fischhoff's participation in our first counter-terrorism conference at the FBI Academy. Following an introduction to Frank Ciluffo, fellow conference attendee and then Special Assistant to the President for Homeland Security, (who was then leading the effort to develop the Homeland Security Advisory Council when homeland security was still in "Office" status), we coordinated meetings with Baruch and Frank at the Homeland Security Office.

Dr. Fischoff continued serving as a willing APA spokesperson for homeland security science and technology by meeting with the majority staff of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, and the majority staff of the House Science Committee, coauthoring APA's official comments on the Homeland Security Advisory System (HSAS), and presenting at our Capitol Hill briefing on Disaster Preparedness.

The HSSTAC was chartered in the Homeland Security Act of 2002 (P.L.107-296, see link below for charter language) and will advise the Director of the Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate.

The open session allowed members to provide brief introductions and highlight issues they thought would be important for HSSTAC to address. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/dirtybomb/about.htmlDuring the remainder of the open session, Chuck McQueary outlined the mission and goals of HSSTAC, which were pretty much identical to his testimony before the House Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Science, and Research & Development of the Select Committee on Homeland Security the day before.

The work of the Advisory Committee will be divided across 4 subcommittees that were not discussed in the public session, but Dr. Fischhoff said later he'd been assigned to one whose paraphrased function is public relations. During Q&A, Baruch took the opportunity to discuss one of his pet concerns (related in part to the work he does for the Environmental Protection Agency), which is developing clean-up standards that would help reassure the public about the risks associated with moving back into an area contaminated by a radiological device (i.e., a dirty bomb), a troubling scenario that was depicted last year in a NOVA special (see link below).

When I asked him to comment on his appointment and the role of psychology as it applies to the S&T mission of DHS, Dr. Fischhoff said:

"I see three roles for psychological research in creating the science and technology needed to protect homeland security. One is ensuring that plans and models make behaviorally realistic assumptions -- for example, about how people will respond in crisis situations or how well they will be able to use safety equipment. A second role is improving the role of human judgment in the decision-making process, recognizing that experts are people, too. We need to understand their limits, both to help them to do a better job and to know how much faith to put in their work. The third role is creating clearer communication between officials and citizens. Citizens need, and want, to understand the risks that they face and the tradeoffs that policies make between safety, cost, privacy, and other outcomes. Officials need to know what citizens want from them and are willing to contribute to the cause. Although my own field, judgment and decision making, is central to these issues, I think that many areas in psychology have a great deal to contribute. I hope to be able to represent them, as well as the social and behavioral sciences more generally."