Two Items Regarding Airplane Safety

This entry was published at least two years ago (originally posted on December 30, 2009). Since that time the information may have become outdated or my beliefs may have changed (in general, assume a more open and liberal current viewpoint). A fuller disclaimer is available.

Item one:

Chart: The Odds of Airborne TerrorOver the past decade, there have been, by my count, six attempted terrorist incidents on board a commercial airliner than landed in or departed from the United States: the four planes that were hijacked on 9/11, the shoe bomber incident in December 2001, and the NWA flight 253 incident on Christmas….

Over the past decade, according to BTS, there have been 99,320,309 commercial airline departures that either originated or landed within the United States. Dividing by six, we get one terrorist incident per 16,553,385 departures….

the odds of being on given departure which is the subject of a terrorist incident have been 1 in 10,408,947 over the past decade. By contrast, the odds of being struck by lightning in a given year are about 1 in 500,000. This means that you could board 20 flights per year and still be less likely to be the subject of an attempted terrorist attack than to be struck by lightning.

Item two:

Our current response to terrorism is a form of “magical thinking.” It relies on the idea that we can somehow make ourselves safer by protecting against what the terrorists happened to do last time.

Unfortunately for politicians, the security measures that work are largely invisible. Such measures include enhancing the intelligence-gathering abilities of the secret services, hiring cultural experts and Arabic translators, building bridges with Islamic communities both nationally and internationally, funding police capabilities — both investigative arms to prevent terrorist attacks, and emergency communications systems for after attacks occur — and arresting terrorist plotters without media fanfare.

They do not include expansive new police or spying laws. Our police don’t need any new laws to deal with terrorism; rather, they need apolitical funding. […]

It’s not security theater we need, it’s direct appeals to our feelings. The best way to help people feel secure is by acting secure around them. Instead of reacting to terrorism with fear, we — and our leaders — need to react with indomitability, the kind of strength shown by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill during World War II.

By not overreacting, by not responding to movie-plot threats, and by not becoming defensive, we demonstrate the resilience of our society, in our laws, our culture, our freedoms. There is a difference between indomitability and arrogant “bring ’em on” rhetoric. There’s a difference between accepting the inherent risk that comes with a free and open society, and hyping the threats.

We should treat terrorists like common criminals and give them all the benefits of true and open justice — not merely because it demonstrates our indomitability, but because it makes us all safer. […]

Despite fearful rhetoric to the contrary, terrorism is not a transcendent threat. A terrorist attack cannot possibly destroy a country’s way of life; it’s only our reaction to that attack that can do that kind of damage. The more we undermine our own laws, the more we convert our buildings into fortresses, the more we reduce the freedoms and liberties at the foundation of our societies, the more we’re doing the terrorists’ job for them.

1 thought on “Two Items Regarding Airplane Safety”

  1. Part of the problem is that TPTB are reactive rather than pro-active. Why is it prudent to make things onerous on the traveling public for something that already has happened. The thinking that the baddies are going to do the same thing they last time they decided to fuck with us and not thinking that they’re not going to do the same thing in the same place at the same time they did it previously. Why make things uncomfortable for the traveling public on just the last hour of the flight? The baddies can’t choose to use a time mid-flight? Why prohibit electronics when electronics weren’t even part of the recent problem. AFAICS it’s all security theater and nothing more than that.

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