After the Oklahoma City bombing and several natural disasters in 1998, the General Services Administration (GSA) decided it needed a better tool to assess the risks that face government buildings. Now, after working with Regina Hunter and colleagues at Sandia National Laboratory for several years, the GSA has got its wish: a Risk Assessment MethodProperty Analysis and Ranking Tool (RAMPART). "Traditionally buildings have been constructed to code, which pays attention to disasters that have already happened," Hunter explains. "RAMPART looks to the future probability of events occurring and what there is to lose if those events take place."

The Sandia team rolled out the RAMPART system at the GSA's regional office in Denver this month and plans to visit nine other offices by the end of September. The scientists worked out elaborate sets of equations to evaluate the risk of threatening eventshurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, winter storms, floods, terrorist attacks and crimesto buildings in set locations, made using certain types of construction, housing specific activities and different numbers of people, among other variables. Users of the RAMPART software "point and click their way through the assessment," Hunter says, thanks to a simple user interface. "They will be asked basic questions about the buildinglocation, construction, security monitoring etc.and the computer program will do the rest." The scientists hope RAMPART might eventually be adapted for analyzing other buildings such as embassies and schools.