A Thoughtful, Analytical Approach to NGO Security

Risk Homeostasis: Is NGO Security a Sham?

Risk homeostasis theory, developed by Gerald J.S. Wilde, has some serious potentially serious implications for NGO security.

At its core risk homeostasis theory has two basic premises. The first is that every individual has an inbuilt, personal, acceptable risk level that does not readily change. The second premise is that when the level of acceptable risk in one aspect of an individual's life changes there will be a inverse change of acceptable risk elsewhere. In other words everyone has their own risk ‘set point” at which they are comfortable and which they will endeavour to remain at.

In an NGO context it suggests that increased security precautions encourage greater risk taking amongst staff in other areas of their lives. Better vehicles and improved communications would therefore result in staff to pushing the envelope in their field activities. In effect, according to risk homeostasis theory, security measures merely serve to "move risk-taking behaviour around".

Wilde’s book, Target Risk, is full of citations from studies showing that vehicle safety improvements increase risky driving and fail to decrease the accident rate. He also cites examples of industrial safety programs that don’t decrease overall work related injuries and anti-smoking campaigns that come to nothing.

All of this begs the question of whether or not current security programs are, or even can be, effective. Do security officers, security training programs, and improvements in equipment merely shift the risk? Do aid workers compensate for decreased risk by pushing harder and farther than they would otherwise? Should we be concentrating on mitigation rather than risk reduction?

Note: The out of print first edition of “Target Risk, Dealing with the Danger of Death, Disease and Damage in Everyday Decisions” is available for free online. The expanded “Target Risk 2: A New Psychology of Safety and Health” is available from online bookstores.

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This work by Kevin Toomer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 Canada License.
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