Risk Terrain Modeling, or RTM, is an approach to spatial risk analysis that utilizes a geographic information system to attribute qualities of the real world to places on a digitized map. It operationalizes the spatial influence of risk factors to common geographic units, then combines separate layers to produce “risk terrain” maps showing the presence, absence, or intensity of all risk factors at every location throughout the geography. Theoretically- and empirically-grounded risk terrain maps show where conditions are suitable for threats and hazardous events to occur in the future. RTM offers a statistically valid way to articulate and communicate vulnerable areas at the micro-level.

With the growing utilization of intelligence-led operations in the security community, risk assessments for global threats are especially important for tactical actions, resource allocations, and short- and long-term planning. Use the resources below to produce risk terrain models and maps that give actionable meaning to the relationships that exist between place-based indicators and hazardous outcomes.



Analyzing and Visualizing Worldwide Spatial Data:

An Application of Risk Terrain Modeling


Free PDF Download

This manual is offered as a primer on the conceptual issues surrounding global risk and demonstrates effective ways to apply mapping techniques to global data. With the impact of globalization and changes in the forces and relations of production, risks are no longer posed in isolation from each other. The intrinsic character of global threats and their low frequency of occurrence pose certain challenges in the operationalization of risk events. In a similar vein, the basic differences between the global risks themselves require analysts to approach each threat using a strategy that combines common methodology with analysis that is unique to each condition. The main intent of this book is to return to the principle that we can understand global crises not just on the basis of knowing what occurred prior to the incident that we are interested in, but also that we can understand the social, economic, political, and physical contexts in which crises occur. We consider the temporal as well as spatial factors that precede, interact with, and follow the incident's occurrence. This book equips the reader with the skills for responding to conceptual and methodological differences, challenges, and novelties of the data analysis process, and demonstrates effective ways to apply mapping techniques and risk terrain modeling methods to transnational data. 

We use the outbreaks of governmental internal armed conflict to demonstrate an application of risk terrain modeling (RTM) for spatial risk assessment at both the national and sub-national levels on a global extent. RTM can give actionable meaning to the relationships that exist between place-based indicators and damaging outcomes. Planners can use RTM methods to develop strategic models to forecast where problems are likely to emerge and to engage in steps that might reduce risks in the future and, potentially, avert crises altogether.

In the first part of this book, we review the risk terrain modeling approach to spatial risk assessment and present a short overview of the theoretical underpinnings of globalization theory. In the second part we detail the technical steps of RTM for analysts to follow using ArcGIS software. In the third and final part, we present ideas about how RTM can be used for strategic and tactical decision-making.


Additional Written Resources

Books, full-text articles, book chapters, research briefs, literature reviews, and case studies are all up-to-date and ready for download at the Publications Page. Look for the
symbol to find them easily.


RTM Google Group



Be the first to learn about RTM-related news and events. Click on the link to join or learn more. This email discussion group is an outlet for users to share thoughts, post questions, seek advice, share RTM experiences, and see what others have to say. Only members can post comments, but all content is public. 


Supplemental Tutorials and Recommended Resources

Adding Map Layers To Google Earth (Tutorial) PDF


Technical differences for RTM in ArcGIS 10 vs. 9.3 PDF


Step-by-step guide for testing predictive validity, weighting, and selecting risk map layers PDF
Notes on Testing Predictive Validity, Spatial Autocorrelation and Selecting Risk Map Layers PDF

Video Demo of SPSS to test a RTMl's predictive validity (~3min no audio) Link
Video Demo of Epi Info to test RTM's predictive validity (~2min, no audio) Link


GIS for Public Safety: An annotated guide to ArcGIS tools and procedures (Free PDF download) Link
Epi Info (Free statistical software from the CDC; useful for testing predictive validity of RTM) Link 


ArcGIS Tools

RTM Toolbox for ArcGIS 9.3 (Updated 5/2011)
RTM Toolbox for ArcGIS 10 (Updated 4/2012) 



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