The Australian Security Research Centre (ASRC) is seeking short story entries about “plausible” disaster scenarios for its “Australia’s Security Nightmares” competition.
The think tank hopes the stories will “contribute to a better conception of possible future threats”, in turn helping Australia’s critical services such as defense, health agencies, emergency services and intelligence agencies be better prepared.
The top prize is $1000, second prize offers $500 and third prize is $300.
The work needs to be an unpublished, original fiction set in Australia between today and 2020, but writers should avoid supernatural forces, aliens and zombies -- the story must be “grounded in a plausible, coherent and detailed security situation”, according to ASRC.
“Such stories provide useful insights for those planning to face security threats,” it says.
Entrants can make up their own plot, or follow one of the 14 suggested scenarios ASRC offers, covering cyber attacks, threats to Australia’s oil fields, anthrax in envelopes, astroids, tsunamis, a major geo-political realignment, or divisive hostilities between two or more identity groups.
The inspiration for the competition was the US Army’s reported enlistment of Hollywood screenwriters and directors after the September 11 2001 attacks -- including writers from Die Hard and MacGyver -- to cook up possible future attack scenarios.
There are other examples of US security agencies seeking help from creatives to visualise terror scenarios.
The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) around 2004 reportedly brought in software developers and fiction writers to brainstorm for its “Red Cell” terror preparedness program. That group pondered what would happen if al Qaeda unleashed a Radiological Dispersal Device -- a “dirty” chemical or biological bomb -- on the nation.
The exercise challenged assumptions about what would be considered a success. For example, the very act, regardless of the number of casualties, would constitute a success (pdf).
When DHS later turned to science fiction writers -- because they envisaged “the reality of today” 20 years earlier -- renowned US security and cryptography researcher Bruce Schneier called the exercise “embarrassing”.
He later tempered that sentiment by arguing there is a place for both brainstorming and traditional risk analysis in counterterrorism, so long as whoever is running that program does not depend on either too much.
If Schneier could enter ASRC’s program, his submission would be about “al Qaeda, a comet hitting the earth, zombies, and feral pigs”, according to his blog.
The competition closes on 30 September and is open to Australian and New Zealand residents over the age of 18.
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