Looking at COVID-19’s Declining Mortality Rate

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June 26, 2020 – This week’s Situation Room dashboard takes a look at the mortality rate of COVID-19 and examines an apparent decline in the numbers. While there is some volatility at the onset of outbreaks, mortality differs most significantly between countries and regions rather than a declining much over time. Thus the change in observed global mortality for COVID-19, can be partly explained by outbreaks growing in different countries with lower mortality rates. A variety of factors contribute to differing mortality rates from one region and country to another and are summarized below. 

  • Data Collection Problems: Countries have vastly different data collection abilities when it comes to COVID-19 that are likely a chief factor of varying mortality rates. Most countries continue to have inadequate testing levels which will underreport the true number of cases in a country, but as testing increases mortality will fall. Most egregious is Mexico, where more than half of tests return positive results, ten times as much as the World Health Organization says there should be if testing was sufficient. Additionally, many developing countries do not have accurate reporting of deaths which is exacerbated by the pandemic and overwhelmed healthcare systems. Measures of excess mortality attempt to correct for this underreporting, but is not included in official COVID-19 statistics. 
  • Population Demographics: The age distribution of various countries is another significant factor which likely determines lower fatality rates. Older people are at significantly greater risk of dying from COVID-19 thus, a greater percentage of elderly people in a population in a given country, such as Italy, contributes to higher death rates from the virus.
  • Healthcare Quality: Access and quality of healthcare, notably the number of beds equipped for intensive care, ventilators and technicians trained to administer care, may impact the risk of death for patients with COVID-19. Factors like healthcare cost and availability also affect the treatment of a COVID-19 patient.
  • Underlying Health Conditions: Non-healthy practices such as smoking vary greatly between countries and contributes to a higher rate of death due to COVID-19, according to health experts.
  • Human Behavior: Many countries recognize these factors and have altered their pandemic responses to account for the local situation. For example, countries like Turkey and Sweden focused their preventive measures on protecting the elderly while giving younger generations more leeway, which affects the age distribution of confirmed cases and thus the mortality rate. Similarly, As reopening occurs in countries with active outbreaks, older people may take greater precaution to isolate themselves, shifting the age distribution of new cases and also lowering the fatality rate.

Why it Matters: Perceptions that the mortality threat of COVID-19 is not as high as previously thought may lead to stronger pushes for reopening despite high infection numbers. As a result, infection rates may continue to rise, adding to health and safety risks in certain countries since the virus can still lead to significant health issues for people of all ages who contract it. Failure to adhere to preventive measures such as social distancing and wearing masks could also lead to a large spike in cases, overwhelming healthcare systems, which may force some countries and areas to reimpose strict lockdown measures that disrupt economic recovery plans, even if death rates decline. 

Want to see the whole dashboard and a trove of other COVID related data? Contact us to see if you’re eligible for a free trial.

Seven Deadly Sins of Private Sector Intelligence

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The craft of intelligence is part art and part science. As the world grows smaller, through technology and the ability to virtually reach across the globe in seconds, our ethics, tradecraft and tools risk becoming more controversial. As private sector intelligence professionals, our work should not be as fraught as that of our government counterparts – but at times it can be – particularly when our integrity is on the line. This is one of the reasons we always recommend that our clients develop an ethics policy within their intelligence organization. These guidelines should dictate what is allowable and what is not – and what requires sign off from other authorities within the company. With that, and some recent private and public sector intelligence snafu’s in mind, we created a list of seven deadly sins of the private sector intelligence professional to help guide some of these ethics considerations.

Collection of non-public intelligence or information on a competitor company

 Despite Hollywood depictions, it is generally illegal in the US to steal non-public information from a company – especially intellectual property, trade secrets, patents or new products. But it seems like at least once per year a company shows up in the press, in trouble because they asked one of their business intelligence or security intelligence functions to do just that. Think of it this way, the US government frequently prosecutes foreign nationals for engaging in these sorts of behaviors. They are no less illegal for Americans, and when it does happen it can impact a company’s stock price, reputation and legal standing. And, for those of us in private sector intelligence, it unfortunately misrepresents the entire professional field, making it that much harder to professionalize the role.

Misrepresenting oneself online or in-person

 Similarly, intelligence professionals sometimes crossover from their days of covert operations in the government, unaware that this same practice is generally ethically prohibited within their companies, and in some cases – also against the law. In 2014 Sea World representatives admitted that employees had gone undercover to spy on activist groups concerned about the company’s treatment of killer whales. Although it was never made clear who gave the order to do this, the company’s already embattled market value dropped further (it was already down over intense pressure from activists), and their reputation was further damaged by the revelation. In the aftermath, the company changed their policies to disallow such actions and hired a consultant to audit the company’s security practices.

 There are plenty more examples of companies ending up in trouble for this type of behavior over the years – and as such – many company’s policies prohibit this type of behavior. Even when a policy doesn’t prohibit it – in some cases misrepresenting oneself can lead to charges of fraud or entrapment.

Producing intelligence with the end result already decided or framing intelligence to support a particular point of view (AKA cherry-picking)

 Intelligence analysis will undermine its purpose if the analyst writes the report to suit their particular point of view – or that of a decision-maker. While we sometimes “begin with the end in mind,” looking for evidence that only supports a particular point of view is a recipe for failure when it comes to security and risk. Consider the idea of only collecting intelligence on attacks against your company if they were perpetrated by a particular type of extremist, or people from a particular ethnic group. The end result would be an intelligence failure when we failed to account for the possibility of an attack by a repeat offender or a different type of extremist.

Failing to look for disconfirming information

Sometimes one-sided analysis is not intentional, but rather is the fault of an unintentional failure to seek out information that disproves a theory. This can be especially hazardous when analyzing cause and effect relationships that appear on the surface to be obviously explained. In 2012, petty shoplifting crime in the city of Dallas decreased by a whopping 75 percent. The result of a focused and expanded police presence, right? The hiring and academy graduation of more officers? No, a 2012 change in police policy made it extremely difficult for store owners to report petty theft. In fact, statistical anomalies are often the product of a change in reporting policy. A quick look at data on rape in Sweden tells a similar story. The data (see chart below) shows a sharp increase in rape reports starting in 2005. This increase and the resultant numbers have been misattributed to various factors but a quick look at the information provided by the Swedish government provides additional context, explaining that the definition of rape has changed over time. The increase is in fact due to a change in reporting requirements, including one which requires that every instance of rape – including marital rape, be counted separately. So, if a woman reports that she was raped once a night for a year – that counts as 365 times. But if the correlation was made that the rise in numbers correlates with the arrival of more refugees (it actually doesn’t) and the analyst failed to look for disconfirming information – they could be unintentionally passing on misinformation to decision or policymakers.

Failing to conduct thorough research and reach an accurate analysis in an effort to meet a tight deadline

 We have all been there. Our decision-makers have a meeting scheduled for 9:00 AM tomorrow and must plot strategy for handling a major crisis. It is now 4:00 PM. And we really want to go home at five. The majority of private sector intelligence professionals are generalists, meaning that we alternate from topic to topic and region to region on a daily basis. Rarely do we have the luxury of hovering over one area long enough to develop a deep, sustained expertise in any one specific account. However, if we are going to do our craft justice and bring real value to our organizations, we must put the time and focus into our research required to ensure that we are providing our consumers with a fully-formed, comprehensive review of all key facts, and that our analysis takes all of this critical information into account. Reaching sound, valuable conclusions is, simply put, our craft. 

Changing an analytic judgment to suit the demands of a policymaker or decision-maker

While there are moments in one’s career when it might appear wise to align with the preconceived views of our key decision-maker/s, especially when the key decision-maker in question holds the key to our professional advancement, history is replete with examples that prove just the opposite. When tempted to fall into this trap, we want to ask ourselves one question. Do we want to say what those around us want to hear, or do we want to provide wise counsel that positively impacts our organization, potentially improves decisions and outcomes, and leads to improving our security or enhancing our bottom line? A momentary decision to change analysis based on pressure from a policy-maker may seem attractive, but the bad legacy and damage to integrity that it leaves for the analyst – and potentially the entire company – is never worth it.

Refusing to consider opposing arguments, even when new evidence comes to light

 None of us can completely escape our biases, human nature being what it is. But when we allow our biases to prohibit us from hearing other points of view, or even more dangerously, prevent us from taking into account new and valuable evidence, we are simply not doing our job. The temptation to defend our analysis without full consideration of the other side of the story – is usually more about our ego than the strength of our analysis. There is always another side to every story, and in most cases both sides carry a degree of truth as seen from a different perspective.  Maintaining objectivity and looking at a problem from every angle is possibly the single most crucial skill required to deliver accurate and impactful analysis.

Conclusion: Intelligence without integrity is a recipe for disaster

Intelligence without ethical codes of conduct, regulatory roadmaps and oversight too often leads to abuse of power and poor decision making, based on bad information obtained by unethical means. In extreme cases, like the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, it can also lead to unnecessary loss of life. While these problems have historically been more prevalent in government, the growth of the intelligence in the private sector will, unfortunately, bring with it more problems with unethical conduct if these types of ground rules are not established and adhered to within our organizations.

Meredith Wilson is the CEO of Emergent Risk International (ERI) and Brady Roberts is the Director for Client Relations. ERI specializes in the building private sector intelligence functions, training, and providing high value intelligence for private sector organizations.

Dashboard of the Week: Energy Market Trends and The Push for Renewables

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With projections of a record decline in global energy demand and emissions this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this week’s dashboard examines trends in the global energy market, historic data on emissions during global recessions and the status of the turn to renewable energy sources. The pandemic is impacting energy demand, use and policies that could have implications for future emissions and consumption trends.

Why this Matters: The changing energy landscape will have an impact on companies’ operations and supply chains, as certain events like the pandemic coupled with government-driven regulations force businesses and consumers to adapt to new sources of energy. The pandemic is pushing some countries like the European Union to opt for “green” recovery plans that could increase the turn to renewables, while others like the US, China and India are opting for environmental rollbacks that could disrupt efforts to phase out fossil fuels and higher emitting energy sources like coal. The uneven regulatory landscape could complicate the operations of key industries like energy, manufacturing and transportation around the world. Policy shifts could also drive new waves of activism targeting governments, corporations and other stakeholders to demand new policies to address climate change.
The following dashboard features recent and historical trends that will help to understand the future of the global energy market and implications for businesses around the world. The dashboard includes sections on oil prices, historical data, market factors, forecast trends and risk factors.

(Situation Room™ Clients can find the full dashboard and analysis here.

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