Society for Risk Analysis (SRA)

Systemic Risks of Pandemics

8-May-2020 10:35 AM EDT, by Society for Risk Analysis (SRA)

Newswise — What is so special about systemic risks? Risks are systemic when a society’s essential systems, such as telecommunications, infrastructure or health systems are threatened. Also, risks are systemic in that their direct manifestations and cascading effects propagate across an interconnected world. This certainly applies to our global realities with COVID-19, where a systemic risk approach is definitely needed.

If you look at systemic risk from an interdisciplinary perspective, one might think of the fable, Seven Blind Men and the Elephant. Each of the men gets ahold of one piece of the elephant and tries to make sense of what they have in front of them. The same goes for systemic risks. Each discipline gets ahold of one aspect of the phenomenon. If we put all the pieces together, we have five attributes to systemic risk – complex interdependencies, transboundary hazards, non-linear developments, tipping points and inadequate policy instruments. 

  • Complex interdependencies - refer to tightly coupled systems and interconnectivity resulting from tight coupling. As a result, we are faced with introducing tendencies and feedback loops within systems, but also between systems. 
  • Transboundary hazards – pose cascading effects and also a transgression of boundaries that refers to geographical regions and system domains that are being transgressed. These transboundaries challenge multi-level governance approaches. 
  • Non-linear developments - refer to the exponential growth of impacts, which we see happening with the coronavirus pandemic. The distribution of occurrences are rapidly shifting, which means that scientists cannot easily extrapolate from past experience or data sets into the future.
  • Tipping points - become catastrophic once certain thresholds have been breached. The question is, how much stress can our current systems take until those thresholds are breached? Oftentimes, tipping points are difficult to detect before the actual event, and before that point is reached. 
  • Inadequate policy instruments - have two elements. The first is risk perception. It is difficult to communicate uncertainties about occurrences and consequences to the public and to stakeholders. Framing effects might take place here and there is a general lack of trust in institutions, and in science in general, which makes it very difficult to communicate about fairness and equity issues. The second is mainly due to institutional inertia and short-term legislative initiatives. 

The way in which these attributes are linked together is outlined in figure 1. There is a three-dimensional space made up of complexity, transboundariness and lack of regulation and perception. There is a crosshair that divides the space into four quadrants, in the top right quadrant you will find systemic risks, where there are tipping points and non-linear developments as well as high levels of complexity, transboundariness and lack of regulation and perception. 

How do we tackle this phenomenon?

First, we need system thinking approach or assistance perspective, that bears in mind the interconnectedness of systems in contemporary societies. At the core of this heuristic, which will be referred to as system I level, you have the risk emitting systems. They might be biological, financial, technological, or any other emitting system. System II level is the institutional arrangements and regulation in place to tackle risks emanating from system I. Both systems are interconnected, and embracing both systems is system III, where we have societal risk controversies and public discourse. All of these systems are heuristics that would help us analyze the interdependencies of systemic risks. 

With regard to how to organize research on systemic risk, we can follow a very generic cycle of risk governance that starts with pre-assessment, then appraisal, characterization and evaluations, and finally, management. This is a never-ending process that, at its core, has participation, communication and reflection. The systems thinking needs to be incorporated into this procedural framework. 

To apply systems thinking to the current COVID-19 pandemic, we must take an interdisciplinary approach. This must be a truly integrated and joint effort of various disciplines to successfully govern the situation. It is also important to find ways of including stakeholders and the public in order to balance trade-offs. Initiating a systemic risk approach is quite challenging but must include: 

  • Transparency and plausibility are a top priority to change;
  • An interdisciplinary approach to modeling and characterization of risks, especially with regard to countermeasures that are being deployed successfully by various countries; 
  • Communicating tipping points to the public while maintaining a balance between what is known now and what is needed to govern future decisions; 
  • Anticipatory governance, with short-, mid- and long-term perspectives; and,  
  • A deliberative discourse that maps out the ethical dimension of risk governance before disruptive forces take hold.

Register for reporter access to contact details
Newswise: Systemic Risks of Pandemics



Newswise: Systemic Risks of Pandemics



Filters close

Showing results

110 of 2517
Newswise: Commentary in Pediatrics: Children Don’t Transmit Covid-19, Schools Should Reopen in Fall
7-Jul-2020 3:00 PM EDT
Commentary in Pediatrics: Children Don’t Transmit Covid-19, Schools Should Reopen in Fall
University of Vermont

Based on one new and three recent studies, the authors of this commentary in Pediatrics conclude that children rarely transmit Covid-19, either among themselves or to adults. The authors recommend that schools reopen in the fall, since staying home can adversely affects children's development.

Newswise: Team Sports Risks Go Well Beyond Injury During the Pandemic
Released: 9-Jul-2020 6:25 PM EDT
Team Sports Risks Go Well Beyond Injury During the Pandemic
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Health Sciences

Annabelle de St. Maurice, MD, MPH, co-chief infection prevention officer for UCLA Health, speaks on The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guide for youth sports to resume.

Newswise: shutterstock_1658523400-300x300.jpg
Released: 9-Jul-2020 3:40 PM EDT
WashU Expert: America gains nothing by leaving WHO
Washington University in St. Louis

President Donald Trump’s recent announcement to suspend U.S. funding to, and withdraw from, the World Health Organization is “counter to our interests in addressing our needs to save the lives and further the health of Americans, as well as an abandonment of America’s position as a global leader,” says the director of Washington University in St.

Released: 9-Jul-2020 2:15 PM EDT
NFHS-AMSSM Guidance for Assessing Cardiac Issues in High School Student-Athletes with COVID-19 Infection
American Medical Society for Sports Medicine (AMSSM)

An expert medical task force appointed by the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine (AMSSM) and National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) has issued guidance for assessing potential cardiac issues in high school student-athletes with COVID-19 infection.

Released: 9-Jul-2020 12:45 PM EDT
Structural analysis of COVID-19 spike protein provides insight into its evolution
Francis Crick Institute

Researchers at the Francis Crick Institute have characterised the structure of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein as well as its most similar relative in a bat coronavirus.

Released: 9-Jul-2020 12:20 PM EDT
Face Masks Can be Devastating for People with Hearing loss, NYU professors say in British Medical Journal
New York University

Experts examine the serious implications of needed coronavirus prevention measures on health care practitioners and their patients with hearing loss.

Newswise: Research News Tip Sheet: Story Ideas from Johns Hopkins Medicine
Released: 9-Jul-2020 12:00 PM EDT
Research News Tip Sheet: Story Ideas from Johns Hopkins Medicine
Johns Hopkins Medicine

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Johns Hopkins Medicine Media Relations is focused on disseminating current, accurate and useful information to the public via the media. As part of that effort, we are distributing our “COVID-19 Tip Sheet: Story Ideas from Johns Hopkins” every Tuesday throughout the duration of the outbreak.

Newswise: Is COVID-19 widening the gender gap in academic medicine?
Released: 9-Jul-2020 11:35 AM EDT
Is COVID-19 widening the gender gap in academic medicine?
Michigan Medicine - University of Michigan

A new study finds that fewer women were first authors on COVID-19-related research papers published in the first half of this year. The findings suggest a worsening gender gap in academic medicine, where women were already underrepresented among authors of medical research.

Released: 9-Jul-2020 11:10 AM EDT
How Can Education Researchers Support Education and Public Health Institutions During Covid-19?
American Educational Research Association (AERA)

As education researchers’ ongoing work is interrupted by school closures, what can they do to support education and public health institutions dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic? An article published today in Educational Researcher aims to answer that question, providing recommendations based on conversations with public health officials, state and local policymakers, educational leaders, directors of national education organizations, and researchers across disciplines.

8-Jul-2020 11:00 AM EDT
Cleveland Clinic Researchers Find Rise In Broken Heart Syndrome During COVID-19 Pandemic
Cleveland Clinic

Cleveland Clinic researchers have found a significant increase in patients experiencing stress cardiomyopathy, also known as broken heart syndrome, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Showing results

110 of 2517