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Coronavirus Outbreak, Drones, the U.S. Power Grid: RAND Weekly Recap

March 6, 2020

This week, we discuss insights from RAND experts on COVID-19; how drones are reshaping the cybersecurity landscape; protecting the power grid; Americans' news habits; International Women's Day; and why Brexit is still costing the UK.

Volunteers in protective suits disinfect a railway station as China tries to contain an outbreak of coronavirus, Changsha, Hunan province, February 4, 2020, photo by Stringer/Reuters

Volunteers in protective suits disinfect a railway station as China tries to contain an outbreak of coronavirus, Changsha, Hunan Province, February 4, 2020

Photo by Stringer/Reuters

Coronavirus Outbreak Intensifies: Discussion with RAND Experts

The new coronavirus—or COVID-19—has spread to at least 75 countries and infected more than 100,000 people across the globe, mostly in China. We asked a diverse group of RAND researchers to answer a wide range of questions about the outbreak. They discussed the potential trajectory of the crisis, the timeline for developing a vaccine, how U.S. households can prepare, and much more.

Here's just a sample of what these experts had to say about the outbreak:

  • Jennifer Bouey, an epidemiologist, explained that quarantines and “social distancing” policies cannot provide 100 percent protection from a highly contagious virus like COVID-19. This is one reason why she expects to see more U.S. cases of coronavirus in the coming days.
  • Senior physician policy researcher Mahshid Abir said it's been a challenge for officials to determine who should be tested—and to provide consistent messaging to the public around testing. She also noted the importance of focusing on diagnosis and containment in parallel.
  • Developing a new vaccine—and the approval to use it—is a long process, said senior policy researcher Andrew Mulcahy: “I don't think that a coronavirus vaccine is right around the corner.”
  • Elizabeth Petrun Sayers, whose research focuses on how media shapes risk perceptions and health behaviors, discussed why misinformation seems to be spreading along with the coronavirus: “If folks are looking for explanations, conspiracy theories can sometimes help them feel better.”
  • Lori Uscher-Pines studies emergency preparedness and response. She says that U.S. households would do well to follow FEMA's standard guidelines and put together a kit that includes a three-day supply of food and water, medications and first aid equipment, and other emergency supplies.
Drone quadcopter over a background of binary code, photos by Kadmy/Adobe Stock and enot-poloskun/Getty Images; design by Rick Penn-Kraus/RAND Corporation

Photos by Kadmy/Adobe Stock and enot-poloskun/Getty Images; design by Rick Penn-Kraus/RAND Corporation

Analyzing Cyber Threats from Drones

Drones are reshaping the cybersecurity world in two key ways. First, drones present a new kind of critical cybersecurity target. Second, drones could become cyber weapons in the hands of adversaries. A new RAND report analyzes both types of threats, focusing on considerations for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Findings suggest that the cyber threats posed by drones are not widely understood. DHS should continue to work toward developing a coherent strategy to mitigate these issues.

Engineer Anu Narayanan at the RAND office in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, January 21, 2020, photo by Jim Mendenhall/Pro Photography Network

Photo by Jim Mendenhall/Pro Photography Network

Anu Narayanan on Protecting the Power Grid

RAND engineer Anu Narayanan's latest research focuses on the vulnerabilities of the U.S. power grid. In a new Q&A, she outlines a wide range of threats and hazards. First, the grid is becoming more automated; this can create more potential weak spots for attackers to target. And at the same time, there are more climate-related effects, natural disasters, and ongoing issues that stem from human error and aging infrastructure. Safeguarding the electric grid is vital, she says. “We have made ourselves so inextricably linked to this asset that, if we lose it, life comes to a grinding halt.”

A woman holding a newspaper and a cell phone, photo by izzetugutmen/Adobe Stock

Photo by izzetugutmen/Adobe Stock

Can Understanding Americans' News Habits Help Fight Truth Decay?

RAND researchers recently surveyed a nationally representative sample of Americans about how they consume the news. The responses offer some new clues that could help address “Truth Decay,” the diminishing role of facts and analysis in American public life. For example, there is evidence that time and convenience might affect people's news habits as much as age, education, or political beliefs do. This suggests it's important to find new ways to get reliable information to people who don't have much free time.

Sarah MacCarthy and Celia Gomez speaking on a panel during Summer Associates Week at RAND's Santa Monica headquarters, July-August 2018, photo by Diane Baldwin/RAND Corporation

Sarah MacCarthy and Celia Gomez speaking on a panel during Summer Associates Week at RAND's Santa Monica headquarters, July 2018

Photo by Diane Baldwin/RAND Corporation

Sunday Is International Women's Day

From health care reform, to the national security risks of artificial intelligence, to how education policy affects students, women at RAND tackle some of the world's most complex and important issues. In honor of International Women's Day on Sunday, we're highlighting the diversity of talent and experience among RAND researchers and leaders who happen to be women.

Eggshell with UK and EU flag pattern, photo by Panorama Images/Getty Images

Photo by Panorama Images/Getty Images

The Costs of Brexit Uncertainty

It's been a little more than a month since the UK left the European Union. It may be tempting to think that Brexit is now over, but this is only “the end of the beginning,” say RAND experts. In fact, negotiations over a long-term political and economic deal between the UK and the EU began just this week. As these talks play out, uncertainty about the final deal could have big costs for the UK. By the end of 2020, GDP could decrease by £4.4 billion, according to RAND research. These costs will continue to accrue over time.

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