James Edward Johnson

my thoughts from right to left

… and how to mitigate the risk. (2 of 2)

with one comment

Please note, this is the second of a two-part post. Read the first part here.

Kinnick Stadium at The University of Iowa (via HawkeyeSports).

So, you are sitting in a packed Kinnick Stadium with 70,000 of your closest friends …  A small single-engine plane flies low overhead and a fine powder begins falling from it.  What do you do?

The natural reaction is to panic and flee.  But why?  What do you accomplish by running?  You breathe more deeply, expose yourself to a wider area, endanger others with your panic, and gain nothing.   Imagine the powder is anthrax – how will this save you?  Anthrax, even in inhalational anthrax infections, does not kill quickly and is treatable.  You should stay still, avoid exposure in place by covering your mouth, and wait to find out what just happened.  You will be no worse off for doing so and you could very well be much better off.  By staying calm and reacting specifically to what you do know, you will help avoid causing harm to yourself and others.

The best solution to mitigating terror is not a top-down government solution.  It is public awareness and education.  Terrorism works because people improperly weigh risks and respond irrationally.  If people respond rationally – even if this were an anthrax attack – few would die at all and none would die because of mass hysteria.

Of course, as I noted in the prior post, a fake attack without any anthrax is easy.  Obtaining many pounds of anthrax spores, however, is many times more difficult.  Most likely, a terrorist making such an attack is relying on the response of people to his actions because he is likely not capable of an attack with the actual thing.  It is wise to remain cautious, but reasonable to presume that the attack is a hoax.

If we all responded to terrorism in the way we respond to auto accidents, terrorism would disappear tomorrow in most places.  Terrorism has a very low death count.  If it is worth your fear, then dozens of ordinary things deserve your fear too.  Never get in a car; in fact, stay at home.  Never meet new people.  Rarely use electricity or gas. Don’t even think of ever getting a pool in your backyard.  Become a recluse.  You should be crippled by fear of every ordinary risk if terrorism scares you.   It is not worthy of your fear because you will almost certainly die of causes other than terrorism.

Even at a small airport, the government should do little more.  Small airplanes are not, in themselves, very lethal.  You can kill as many people with one as you could with an SUV.  It is not worth hardening or securing.  If the government should secure small planes, then it should secure every gasoline semi-trailer, every fertilizer inventory, every gun store … every theater where someone might shout “fire!”  Even in these places, it is the diligence of the local people, and not the government, that will flag people for further examination by the authorities.

Persistence by pilots and staff in a municipal airport – by securing aircraft, noting and responding to suspicious people, raising alertness, … – will probably do far more to thwart my described potential attack than any government action.  This is, in large part, because terrorists adapt and exploit security holes.  The only practical response is to develop a cultural attitude wherein people adapt and change their behavior when they see potential criminal planning.  Remember, America mitigated the harm of one of the attacks on September 11.  Untied 93 was brought down prematurely, saving untold numbers of people, because ordinary people did something that the terrorists did not expect them to do – implement a response directly based on the specific actions of the terrorists.

Only that kind of ordinary vigilance will thwart these sorts of attacks.  More importantly, only this response will thwart attacks in a manner consistent with our nation’s commitment to a liberal, tolerant, and open society.  We need to be reasonably alert, remain in control when we sense heightened danger, respond with appropriate action when we see suspicious activity, and most of all, not respond with the irrational fear upon which terrorists rely for their efficacy.

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Written by JamesEJ

Monday, July 19, 2010 at 5:45 pm

One Response

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  1. […] with security, terrorism, crime, terror « AMIA massacre 16 years later … … and how to mitigate the risk. (2 of 2) […]


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