Dropped my spouse off at the water taxi this morning at 8am. She’ll get to the airport by 10 which hopefully will give her enough time to get through security for a 2:30 flight. But we’ll see.
I’ve been reflecting a little on the airborne events of the last few days and reading lots of blogs that say that the Transportation Security Administration in the United States (and CATSA here in Canada) has it all wrong when it comes to their latest response to an attempt to blow up an airplane. The problem is that they are trapped in the fear loop that the United States government has created for itself since 9/11.
US (and by association, the rest of us) security policy has been driven, at a base level, by fear. The thinking goes that the more we are doing, the safer we are, and if there is a breach of security we need to do more. The problem with this line of thinking is that the world will never be perfectly safe. This means that every perceived (and reported) security breach drives the need for SOMEBODY TO DO SOMETHING!. If the TSA does not act, they are accused of being soft and endangering the lives of flyers. I have heard friends say to others this week “do you want to be unsafe or bear a delay in getting on board?” This question creates a ridiculous positive feedback loop, equating more DOING with safety. And one wonders if it will ever happen that these measures will be rolled back. How do you argue that doing more makes us safer and then stop doing pat downs for example without being accused of doing less to protect us?
Reactionary doing satisfies the appearance of safety and security, but it does not necessarily do anything to make people safer. In fact, in times of panic or inconvenience, you could argue that people become more and more frustrated, their anger levels rise, and the skies are actually unsafer as a result, not from terrorism, but from air rage.
Security theatre comes from the school of management that respects measurables. But it arises out of a short term thinking mindset that disconnects the activity from the systemic context. You can certainly show that three or four new procedures have been put in place, and you can measure things like delays to flights, how many acts of terrorism have been committed in the next few months and so on. But all that does is take away from the systemic context of security. The problem is that the major measureable for security is zero – zero terrorist attempts. Zero is unattainable, and unmeasureable in the long run. As soon as zero changes to one, a whole new set of reactions is triggered.
The net effect this has on the world is to make people more fearful of events that are highly improbable (I read yesterday somewhere that the probability of being on a plane that is the target of a terrorist attack over the last 10 years world wide is 20 times the probability of being struck by lightning). And there is certainly no guarantee of safety, there never can be. Mr. Abdultallab snuck explosives onto a plane after being cleared through an airport that had TSA certification. He had a visa to the United States, and he got through Amsterdam’s security as well. There are many ways to do this, and there will always be ways to do this. Short of a strip search for every passenger and an xray to ensure that there is nothing INSIDE your body that could be dangerous, air travel is as secure as it has ever been. Probably the best move of the last ten year shas been to lock the flight deck doors. That alone has meant that there have only been 7 hijackings since 9/11. most of them in Africa, and all of them ending with no loss of life. Crude attempts to fashion explosives in the cabin from innocuous materials have been tried twice and have failed. One Bolivian claimed he had a bomb, but it was simply tins full of dirt and adorned with lightbulbs.
Air travel is safe – as safe as it has ever been. This is totally at odds with what we are being told this week and shown in the actions of the security organizations that have lost themselves in a feedback loop of panic and reaction. The more patting down, personal searches and confinement to your seat you experience, the less safe you feel, without being any more safe than you actually are.
“But we’re DOING something!”
PS…just as I finished this post, Caitlin called from the airport. CATSA is not allowing any carry on baggage at all today on her flight to Los Angeles. All she can bring on is her laptop. Everything else has to go in the checked luggage. One assumes this will speed up the boarding process, limiting the personal searches that have to happen, but that makes for a pretty boring 3 hours in teh air and another 4 hours on the ground. Not even a book is allowed.