More complete picture of human cost from terrorist attacks

A researcher from the University of Texas at Dallas provides a fuller picture of the human cost from terrorist attacks. He wrote about his study and findings in the journal Public Choice (citation below).

Terrorist attacks are responsible for many more injuries than deaths. Major terrorist attacks can leave dozens and even hundreds of people with respiratory disease, lost limbs, and hearing loss. Victims may also subsequently suffer from depression.

In this latest study, Dr. Daniel G. Arce estimated the number of years of healthy life that victims lost due to injuries. Specifically, how many years free of injuries or disabilities caused by terrorist attacks.

Dr. Arce is Ashbel Smith Professor and Program Head of Economics at the University of Texas at Dallas’ School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences. He specializes in conflict as well as terrorism.

Dr. Arce said:

“By examining terrorism through the lens of deaths and injuries, we can better understand the devastating impact terrorist attacks have on survivors. This information can help us determine the most effective way to spend our limited resources to confront terrorism.”

Deaths and injuries from terrorist attacks

The author gathered and analyzed data from an international terrorism database. He focused on the period between 1970 and 2016. An average of 10,785 people were injured, and 8,338 died annually in domestic and international terrorist attacks, Dr. Arce wrote.

Study on human cost of terrorist attacks
In an Abstract preceding the main article, Dr. Arce wrote the following regarding his study and terrorist attacks: “This paper presents a cross-sectional depiction of the death and injury profiles for nine of the most violent terrorism tactics: six types of bombings, mass shootings, combined shootings and explosions, and intentional vehicular assaults.” (Image: 1. Dr. Arce – 2. Journal – adapted from

He analyzed the percentage of attacks that were mass shootings, intentional vehicular assaults, bombings, and other types of attacks. By gathering data on hospital admissions, he could subsequently examine the distributions and types of injuries.

Dr. Arce estimated terrorism’s overall impact from losses from injuries plus deaths. He applied a methodology that the WHO and World Bank developed to rank major diseases regarding lost lives.

Terrorist attacks – lost years of life

Dr. Arce calculated that 12,628 years of life were lost to terrorist attacks annually. He included the number of healthy years of life that victims lost in his calculation.

The University of Texas at Dallas wrote the following in a press release:

“The formula assigns different values to reflect the impact of various types of injuries on victims. For example, an individual with profound hearing loss experiences 77 percent of optimal health, while a person with major depressive disorder experiences 35 percent.”

The author also calculated, when possible, the years of life lost by those who died in the 2011 mass shootings in Norway, vehicular assaults in Israel, and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombings. Regarding other attacks, there was no available data to apply the same analysis to victims.

Burden of terrorist attacks vs. diseases

One of Dr. Arce’s goals was to help decision-makers make comparisons. For example, to help them compare the burden of diseases with the human consequences of terrorist attacks.

He compared the number of healthy years of life lost from diseases versus terrorist attacks. Heart diseases caused the most deaths and years of healthy life lost. Terrorism, on the other hand, ranked in the bottom ten percent of the list.

This study highlights the low probability of a person becoming the victim of terrorism.

Regarding our fear of terrorism, Dr. Arce said:

“You want to put these things in context, so people fear terrorism less.”

The study’s findings may also help emergency rooms better prepare for likely injuries when terrorist attacks occur. Dr. Arce’s analysis included findings about the kinds of injuries that different types of attacks cause.

Terrorism can also affect companies and even economies. In September 2016, for example, Thomas Cook said it had been suffering the consequences of terrorist attacks in Europe. The Thomas Cook Group is a British global travel company.


On the human consequences of terrorism,” Daniel G. Arce. Public Choice 2018. DOI: Print ISSN: 0048-5829. Online ISSN: 1573-7101.