Pandemic Showcases Why Objective, Comprehensive Data Must Guide Risk Decisions

People around the globe have struggled to make sense of the risks from COVID-19, evidenced by sharply different perspectives on everything from the need to wear masks to the wisdom of going to a movie theater. It has been complicated by politics, certainly, but also evolution, according to biologists. People assess risk in both a deliberate, analytical manner and in an emotional, intuitive way—and while this ordinarily serves people well, it gets complicated when emotion and pragmaticism are in conflict.

The response to the pandemic has epitomized the importance of objectivity in risk assessments, with many researchers noting that “optimistic bias” has often clouded individuals’ perception of COVID-19 risks. They recognize the virus’ ability to harm health—and even cause death—but refuse protective measure because they optimistically believe that their personal risk is less than the risk to others. 

Avoiding Risk Missteps

Like people, businesses are prone to misjudging risk. Organizations often unwittingly seek out facts to support decisions they want to make, and bias can bend the perception of the facts they collect. These tendencies can result in shortsighted business decisions, and—in the high-stakes world of physical security—in critical errors in judgment that can be life-threatening. 

The desire for impartial, unbiased examinations of crime risk is a primary reason that Nationwide Children’s Hospital leans heavily on data from CAP Index, according to its Director of Security, Dan Yaross. The rapidly expanding pediatric hospital and research institute has grown to 60 locations and includes a CAP Index report for every one of them. 

Yaross says data drives the train at Nationwide Children’s Hospital—and the more objective the better. “It’s one thing for [security] to recommend something, but data is what makes an impact—and that’s what CAP reports give us,” Yaross explained. “Then it’s not just us saying it’s an area of high-crime risk. It provides objective support for our opinions. It drives everything.”

An Objective Foundation

A security operation necessarily sits on a foundation of risk perception and risk appetite. If management thinks a particular security risk isn’t a concern, then it won’t pay for new systems to address it. If a company believes the threat of X is greater than Y, then X will get greater attention. If staff thinks something won’t happen, it won’t be diligent in mitigating its potential harm. 

It all seems straightforward until you acknowledge the many ways in which bias in risk perception can unwittingly steer teams or organizations down the wrong path. 

“Near-miss” bias

“Near-miss” bias is one way that an event can skew perceptions. When escaping a weather emergency unscathed, for example, people often mistake their good fortune “as an indicator of resiliency,” according to Georgetown and George Mason University researchers (“Why Near-Miss Events Can Decrease an Individual’s Protective Response to Hurricanes, Risk Analysis, Vol. 31, No. 3). It’s not that people deliberately update their probability of being a victim in the wake of a near miss, but it changes their frames of reference. “Our research shows how people who have experienced a similar situation but escape damage because of chance will make decisions consistent with a perception that the situation is less risky than those without the past experience.” 

In the absence of objective and comprehensive data, such as those detailed in CAP Index reports, people favor their own prior experience, which gives distortions such as near-miss bias fertile soil in which to grow. It allows the narrative that accompanies facts to grow more important than the facts themselves, and it is why, research shows, that when it comes to crime and disaster preparedness and mitigation, “gut feelings” cannot be allowed to shape decisions.

“The nice thing about a CAP score is that it’s not just crime—it’s giving you the whole socio-economic perspective,” said Jay C. Beighley, CPP, Associate Vice President for Corporate Security at Nationwide Insurance, which utilizes CAP Index to prioritize security at more than 300 locations across the country. Whereas crime data can be misleading, CAP scores provide “a more well-rounded look at an environment and its past, current, and future,” says Beighley.

Mind Games

When companies forgo an objective, data-driven assessment, they should be aware of the many distortions they can fall victim to when judging risk. 

Event-certainty bias
People tend to underweight probable outcomes compared to outcomes that have an element of certainty, which can result in reluctance to fund mitigation against unlikely events, like earthquakes. Companies must prevent legitimate, uncertain risks from being ignored in favor of undue attention on more certain risks that would have less severe consequences. 

Recency bias
People and organizations often place excessive weight on events that recently occurred. Recent event are easier to recall, which can make them seem more common and serious. A comprehensive review of an area’s risk for crime is necessary to ensure that attention is not diverted away from more probable events that are less fresh in the company’s consciousness.

Emotionally charged events
When a risk evokes strong emotions, people focus on its potential harm rather than on its likelihood to occur. Fear of terrorism is an example. Security executives may find it’s necessary to counterbalance emotional security fears by communicating statistically larger risks. 

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Other Factors

There are many other fact-distorting biases. “Groupthink” can cause an organization to view a risk the way everyone else does instead of its true probability, and “professional bias” can lead an executive to view events through the lens of their profession, rather than offering others objective analysis. There is also confirmation bias, zero-risk bias, and others.

Effective enterprise risk management requires providing senior managers the input they require to make sound decisions about how a company’s exposures to risk potentially affect its ability to achieve its objectives. Meeting that mandate is impossible, say leading security executives, without honest, objective, and current information about the likelihood for crime to occur at a particular address.

“[CAP scoring] is specific right down to the zip code and street address and gives you a radius view with a heat map—that’s critical when you’re trying to make plans,” explained Beighley. “And it’s important on our industry to develop security judgments in a systematic way that is proven reliable, rather than saying [an area’s risk] ‘felt like this or that.’”

Provide your crime and loss data to see how CAP Index forecasting aligns with actual crime and loss incidents at your locations.

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What Clients Say

CAP Reports are critical to my risk assessments. They have enabled us to take a more surgical approach to investing in our stores that need it the most.

Brad Reeves
Senior Manager of Asset Protection
Five Below, Inc.

CAP Index is the first tool I turn to when time is of the essence. I can always depend on CAP Index to provide me qualified crime information within a very few minutes that I feel comfortable reviewing with the C-Suite.

Stephen A. Brown, CPP
Director, Corporate Security / Facility Security Officer
Burns & McDonnell

CAP Index data is a vital part of our security decision-making process.

Keith McGlen, CPP, CHPA
Associate Vice President
System Security Services
Memorial Hermann Health System

CRIMECAST® Reports have helped our organization for many years to proactively assess the particular risk for crime surrounding our facilities. CAP Index® is an easy-to-use online service that allows the flexibility to share and decentralize within our North America business.

Carlos J. Cortez,
Manager, Global Security Programs,
Kraft Foods, Inc. / Mondelez International

Our property selectors are not discouraged from a site just because it receives a high score. What we do is issue every store – all of them – a security classification. The classification determines how we allocate our security resources to that store.

Claude Verville,
Lowe’s

CAP Index's online platform, CRIMECAST, is great. It is easy to use and quick!

Ken Wieczorek,
Bank of America

In industries where there is high public contact and a customer is coming to our location (such as retail), why would you leave it to chance when planning security when there is an easy, affordable tool? When investing a million dollars on a location, what is this small charge compared to what it may cost you when you get sued?

Jay Beighley,
Nationwide Insurance

CAP Index assessments are a must for anyone engaged in asset protection. The new website is much improved and as important, easy to navigate.

Bruce List,
The Williams Companies

We have been using CAP Index for a few years and include it in our security vulnerability assessments. Highly recommend it.

Dan Yaross
Director, Protective Services
Nationwide Children's Hospital