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The terror dam of doom that looms over Boise, Idaho

America's terror vulnerability capital - no, really

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It shouldn't come as a surprise that some American scientists think terrorism can be defined by equations and a priori vulnerability factors. Close study of terrorist action and behavior is too dull for many in the US counter-terror business, so it's better to have numbers; insurance men, newspaper reporters and government officials like them, and Benchmark Analysis for Quantifying Urban Vulnerability to Terrorist Incidents delivers plenty.

Written by University of Arizona math professor Walter W. Piegorsch and two others colleagues and published in a recent edition of the journal Risk Analysis, the study came with a ready-made hook. Boise, Idaho, it is claimed, is among the ten cities in the US most vulnerable to terror. This guaranteed some terror beat coverage in the US newsmedia and, as is usual when some study claims to spot deficiencies in terror defense, thrilled local government officials interested in dunning more taxpayer money from the Feds.

Funded by grants from the Department of Homeland Security, the National Cancer Institute and the Environmental Protection Agency, Piegorsch and his cohorts worked out what they dub a "place-based vulnerability index," or PVI, which is said to be a measure of the fragility of a city to terror attack. The most vulnerable city in the US, according to the study, is New Orleans with a PVI of 3.119. At number ten, Boise sports and index of 1.696.

Vulnerabilities were come to by contributions from other indices, one of which is called the social vulnerability index, or SoVI, previously employed to quantify a location's vulnerability to environmental hazards by evaluating its socioeconomic and demographic profile. To the SoVI, the boffins add a natural hazards vulnerability index (the HazVI) - "a surrogate for community experience in responding to extreme events... an important factor in preparedness levels" - and the BEVI or "built-environment vulnerability index" which takes into account the decrepitude of man-made infrastructure as measured by age plus housing and property values. That New Orleans comes out top of the list is not unexpected considering its poverty and the general national response to Katrina. But who would have picked lily-white Boise as an urban center where a terror plot could easily succeed?

The dam of doom

A reporter for the Los Angeles Times thought to ask why, and was told Boise is menaced by Lucky Peak Dam, seventeen miles northeast, holding back 300,000 acre-feet of water. "That dam could be a very likely target, or possible target," claimed Piegorsch. Add the assessment that the government in Boise was lame at historical local disaster response and it spelled terror trouble.

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