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Universe of Threats – Infrastructure Threat Contest

(open Aug. 1-Oct. 15, 2023)

The Center for Advanced Preparedness and Threat Response Simulation (CAPTRS) is building a catalog of threats, called the “Universe of Threats,” which will be used to prepare decision makers for future threats. Our second essay contest to add to the Universe of Threats will focus on critical infrastructure threats.

According to the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency, there are 16 critical infrastructure sectors vital to the United States. Their incapacitation or destruction would have a debilitating effect on security, national economic security, national public health or safety, or any combination thereof.

  • Chemical
  • Commercial facilities
  • Communications
  • Critical manufacturing
  • Dams
  • Defense industrial base
  • Emergency services
  • Energy
  • Financial services
  • Food and agriculture 
  • Government facilities
  • Healthcare and public health
  • Information technology
  • Nuclear reactors
  • Materials and waste
  • Transportation and water and wastewater.

Essay Contest

We invite you to submit a one page ground truth document (see examples below) which specifies the sector(s) experiencing the threat, the details and origin of the threat, and the considerations for the unfolding response which may not be explicitly stated in your essay. The cause of the threat may be from humans, nature or space. We realize climate change presents threats to multiple infrastructure sectors. If you choose to make this the cause of your threat, be specific as to what the climate-related threat is, the impact of it and what needs to be considered in addressing it. A doomsday scenario without any possible solutions is not what we are looking for.

In addition to the ground truth, submit an original essay/story which is an extension and more detailed story around the ground truth you created. Complex threat scenarios which include threats across multiple infrastructure sectors are encouraged. Scenarios must be plausible and may explore interdependent social, economic, political, environmental or technological forces that shape the unfolding threat.

We encourage you to look at sector-specific plans on the U.S. Government’s critical infrastructure website as you are developing your narrative, while boldly thinking outside the box! You may optionally submit one of the following documents to support the plausibility of the scenario: a one-page description of background research, a one-page list of references, or a one-page letter of support from an expert in the field.

CAPTRS will award $15,000 in prizes!

First place – $5,000
Second place – $2,500 (up to 2 winners)
Third place – $1,000 (up to 5 winners)

**All winning submissions will be published on the CAPTRS website.


Submission Timeline: Applications open August 1, 2023 at 12 a.m. and close October 15, 2023 at 11:59 p.m. You must create an account in Apply to submit your essay.


Contributions will be judged anonymously by a panel of CAPTRS team members and guest judges, composed of experts in relevant disciplinary fields. All decisions made by the panel will be final.  

Submissions will be evaluated holistically, with particular attending to the following dimensions: 

  • Overall creativity – we are looking for scenarios that challenge our preparedness paradigm
  • Plausibility and specificity of the threat
  • Complexity and plausibility of the cascading societal factors
  • Level of difficulty posed for current response capabilities
  • Consistency with the submitted ground truth characteristics
  • Quality of writing

Awards and Publishing:

Winning entries will be announced by the end of November 2023, and will be published on the CAPTRS website. Additional prize money may be awarded at the judges’ discretion


  • You must be 18 years of age or older to participate in this contest. You may submit as an individual or a team. Teams can include up to 6 members and must identify a team lead. All team members must be at least 18 years of age or older. If a team is selected as a winner, the prize money will be awarded to the team lead to split amongst the group.
  • CAPTRS employees, contractors, founders or advisory board members and their immediate families are not eligible to participate.
  • The essays are limited to a maximum of 2,500 words, and must be written in English.
  • The ground truth information will be entered into a separate section on the application. The ground truth is limited to a maximum of 1,000 words
  • The optional supporting documentation is limited to one page. This may be a list of references, description of background research, or a letter of support from an expert in a related field.
  • Submissions generated in whole or in part by artificial intelligence will be automatically disqualified from the contest.
  • You may submit your entry for publication in another forum, but you must inform us immediately if your submitted work is accepted for publication. If you submission is published elsewhere, you will not be disqualified.
  • By submitting your entry, you agree for your ground truth and essay to be used in the CAPTRS Universe of Threats.


You may use these ground truth examples as a guide. If you have any questions about these examples or the contest, contact Erin Huddleston.

Ground Truth: Attack at the Zoo

Ground Truth: Food Shortages

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