28 December 2009

You Are Only As Safe As......

In what must be a stunning admission of the obvious US Dept of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said “No one is happy or satisfied with that. An extensive review is under way.”

If you go to the TSA website and read the complete guff that is there (I particularly like their Myth Busters section - it is rather inadequate I would say).

Of course after more than 8 years since 9/11 and countless pointers and incidents that have occurred before and since - we still do not have a secure system.

I recently travelled to 5 airports in South America. Liquids BTW are allowed through domestic flights and still between some countries. Over the past year I must have been through an airport over two hundred times or probably more. I have watched innumerable security devices that don't work and staff who either don't have a clue or are remarkably disinterested. The TSA is probably no worse but decidedly not best in class in this respect. There are many others who are better at doing this kind of work.

One statistic I would like to see is the amount of absenteeism for whatever reason for TSA employees. Saying (as the website does) you have improved considerably from prior years only shows how bad it was before. We must accept that the government is not going to be good at doing this any better than anyone else. So we are somewhat condemned to a mediocre system. We however as system users must fight for a better level of quality. It is not a temporary situation - we have to fight for it on every trip at every stage.

The current US Government solution has been based on a layered approach to the issue of security. This approach is still probably the best we have. However you have to ask yourself is it adequate? More importantly are all the elements for a formal layered system in place? In my opinion it is clearly neither. I liken the approach of the management (by the Dept Of Homeland Security) of this layered approach to that of the US financial ratings agencies. They only realize there is a problem when someone else points it out to them, even though to the common man it is blatantly obvious.

So I will (probably misquote in words but the context is clear) quote Rafi Ron who was the head of Tel Aviv Airport security - he now runs his own security firm in the DC area. He stated on a panel I ran in 2002 - "You are only as safe as your fellow passengers are alert and will let you be safe".

Judging by the events of the past few days on NW253 this was the case.

So ask yourself the one question. What would you have done? Clearly a lot of other people on the NW flight just sat in their seats petrified. Only a few passengers decided to take action. If you can believe the news reports, the crew were not the people to take the terrorist to the secure seat. It was the passenger who jumped him. That shows that we still have a lot of issues as to how the system could work.

Next time you listen to that pre-flight briefing announcement consider that one phrase actually rings very hollow. It goes something like this "... Remember the Flight Attendants are here for your safety".

Safe travels everyone.


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