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Risk Sciences and Public Policy

Risk professionals are under increased pressure to interpret complex environmental and health situations in creative ways. This research area provides multidisciplinary education designed to increase awareness of the scientific underpinnings of risk assessment and provide a bridge between science and policy that allows innovative public health solutions to complex problems. Risk assessment methods are applied to address a wide range of environmental and public health issues including chemical, microbiological, radiological exposures, natural and man-made disasters, and to evaluate new technologies. Risk assessors are employed in academic, governmental and non-governmental organizations across multiple sectors such as agriculture, energy, environmental protection, armed forces, public health, and transportation.

The Risk Sciences and Public Policy Institute of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health is dedicated to the protection of public health through education, service, and research in risk policy, providing scientists and decision makers with the tools necessary to ensure that environmental health policies result in improved public health, and offer multidisciplinary education designed to broaden the base of scientific knowledge underlying risk assessment and thus bridge the gap between environmental health science and policy. Research and service activities improve the science base for risk assessment, cultivate better risk assessment methods, and enhance the risk management process.

Research Highlights

Assessing the Bioweapons Threat

The US government (USG) has taken steps intended to diminish the likelihood of misuse of research—in one recent action, declaring a funding moratorium on gain-of-function studies on influenza until a risk-benefit analysis can be conducted. The analysis examined biosafety concerns, the potential for such research to produce a biological weapons agent, and the possibility that publication may lower barriers to bioweapons development. To analyze the security risks of biological research, however, it is first necessary to determine the likelihood that bioweapons will threaten national security and to what degree legitimate research is at risk of misuse.

Mitigating the Risks of Synthetic Biology

As part of the Center for Health Security’s continued effort to raise awareness of and offer policy recommendations for emerging biotechnologies, this project uses “red teaming” methodologies to identify and analyze new scientific advances and technologies that have the potential to be deliberately misused to create a biological weapon. Numerous firms in the public and private sectors benefit from red teaming exercises that help identify and quantify risks, as well as to generate new ideas to protect vulnerabilities by challenging exercise participants to view a problem through the lens of an adversary. Vulnerabilities identified during the red team exercises are analyzed and validated to inform the Center’s development of technical and policy solutions that protect emerging biotechnologies for their benefits while minimizing the possibility of misuse.

Associated Faculty