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Security culture

Security culture is a common denominator for a broader family of concepts that explore social and cultural aspects of security. Security culture is a cognitive concept that

  • looks into how groups of people perceive things and how this perception can be explained/predicted/modified;
  • depends on culturally embedded meanings of risk/security. Security culture impacts behaviour and perception in a positive or negative way.

Strategic culture#

Strategic culture is a set of shared beliefs, assumptions, and action repertories, derived from common experiences and shared sense making constructs (“narratives”). The strategic culture creates collective identity and assumptions about appropriate ends and means for achieving security objectives.

Security culture#

Security culture has different meanings. Main conceptual tracks include the following:

Security culture in terms of organizational theory#

The values, cognitive sets and action repertories of members of an organization which could have an impact on the security of that organization.

Citizen security culture#

This instantiation of the concept of security culture focuses on peoples' perceptions of security/insecurity.

Public security culture#

This instantiation of the concept focuses on the government level and on security-enhancing interventions.

Security culture in international security#

Safety culture#

Safety culture is a concept that focuses on the specificity of threats. It was introduced by the International Nuclear Safety Advisory Group (INSAG) in their summary report of the Chernobyl accident of 1986. The concept was merely linked with the nuclear industry and only later, in 1990s, safety culture became a common phenomenon discussed also in other domains and threats such as railways, health care, offshore, aviation, manufacturing, etc. Many definitions of safety culture have been suggested. An interesting suggestion of a safety culture definition has been proposed by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in 2009 as follows:

"the assembly of characteristics, attitudes, and behaviours in organizations and individuals which establishes that as an overriding priority, nuclear safety and security issues receive the attention warranted by their significance".

This definition of safety culture targets also security. In differentiating between types of threats, security culture and safety culture are sometimes in conflict, even if the two concepts complement each other in many respects. Normally, safety culture assumes a great focus on preventing unsafe actions and behaviours that would result in an unintentional incident / accident, while security culture focuses on the prevention of deliberate attacks or diversion of certain materials resulting in short or long term harm. Therefore, for a positive safety culture one should be open to communicate with a high level of trust, whereas in a good security culture openness and trustworthiness can lead to unsecure actions.

This tension has been resolved in terms of definition when in 2010 the above definition of safety culture by NRC has been changed and the concept of security has been eliminated. Though the reasoning to eliminate the term security is not the conflict between safety and security, but rather the view that safety culture addresses both safety and security and there is no need to point out security in the definition anymore. The current definition of safety culture from NRC is as follows:

"the core values and behaviours resulting from a collective commitment by leaders and individuals to emphasize safety over competing goals to ensure protection of people and the environment".


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