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Societal security

Societal security in the first place comprises ethical aspects (acceptability), citizens’ perceptions of security and citizens’ acceptance of security interventions (such as policies) and of technological solutions to security problems. It further comprises citizen resilience and a whole-of-community approach.

It can be expected that technological innovation and further spread of networked structures will create new vulnerabilities, which will require increased societal awareness and resilience. Technology not only can contribute to security or by itself create new vulnerabilities. It also has the potential to change human behaviour and to drive the evolution of security cultures. Citizens’ fear of being controlled by technology can change their behaviour as well as new opportunities for community activities, such as crowdsourcing of information about hazards and disasters to support mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery. As those examples indicate, it can be expected that future development and application of technology will not by themselves create security, or vulnerabilities. Rather, they will accentuate existing trends, processes, and repertories of action that are socially rooted.

Social networks play an important role in information dissemination, opinion mining and public decision making. The unstructured and informal nature of social networks is a challenge for state authorities, which traditionally operate in a linear, top-down manner. This clash of cultures requires new procedures and training schemes for civil servants, officials, and volunteers. Considering aspects like those, it becomes clear that there is more than the societal dimension of security: the societal creation of security. There are no effective technological solutions without acceptance and public participation. With internal and external security becoming less and less separable in a variety of sectors, citizens will have to be better involved in security processes. At the same time, the further development of Europe’s civil security is inconceivable without technology, and technology will contribute to increase social resilience. Another aspect is natural hazards and disasters. The risk they pose is co-defined by prevailing social conditions. Interaction of anthropogenic systems with nature and natural hazards needs more thorough addressing by future security research.

The complexity of the social consequences from critical failure increases with increasing citizens’ dependence on that infrastructure. Because this dependence is expected to increase, the EU could be called on to assume security roles that focus on managing societal consequences of breakdown of critical infrastructure. However, those roles will have their limitations in that citizens’ crisis behaviour considerably depends on predominant social patterns, security culture as well as civic culture at large, including perceived legitimacy of political, economic and social institutions and on the level of risk tolerance of the population as an aspect of societal resilience.

According to conclusions of the FOCUS project, future security research should moreover cover a broader concept of societal security and follow a related set of criteria for good security research.

FOCUS also recommends to stronger explore integration of security research themes with research themes from the social sciences and humanities (SSH).


  • FOCUS conclusions on societal aspects in security research
  • Hamilton, W. D., Bengt, S. & Jesper, G.: Protecting the Homeland: European Approaches to Societal Security – Implications for the United States. Washington DC: Center for Transatlantic Relations, 2005.
  • Rhinard, M.: Societal Security: An Emerging Role for the European Union, in: Arjen B. et al.: Building Societal Security in Europe: The EU’s Role in Managing Emergencies. Working Paper No. 27 (2007), European Policy Centre (EPC), Brussels.
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