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Miguel Ángel Ariño, Professor, IESE, University of Navarra

Excessive security

Tue, 12 Apr 2011 07:49:26 +0000 Published in El Periódico

A colleague professor at IESE told me that a few years ago, health officials in a large city had given him order advice on how many ambulances they should have available and at what points in the city to deal with all the emergencies that might arise. This professor asked them: how many people do you want to die? The answer was obvious: no one. Then it's very simple, he told them. Put an ambulance behind every citizen. Something similar was also told to me some time ago by the teacher of a high school. He was attending to a mother who was indignant because her son had jumped over the fence at high school at recess time. This teacher played along and assured the mother that this was intolerable and that action would be taken. He then explained to me: "What does this mother want us to do, put a teacher behind every child at recess? At high school there are always teachers on duty, but the children try to get around the surveillance and jump the fence when they can. And they will continue to do so.

We cannot insure against all possible contingencies that may occur. And attempting to do so will surely have an unaffordable cost. This comes from the exorbitant security measures that exist at airports. I wonder if the level of security being imposed justifies the cost to operators, airlines and passengers. Are we not putting the equivalent of an ambulance behind every citizen? A plane exploding into pieces on plenary session of the Executive Council flight has a tremendous media impact. But just that, media impact. The consequences of each attack are very small compared to the deaths that occur on the road on any given weekend around the world.

The airplane, including the risk of terrorist attacks, is one of the safest places to be. It is said that the most dangerous moment of air travel is the journey from home to the airport. The great triumph of terrorism is to have altered air travel in such an enormous way. Are there not less costly ways to prevent terrorism than to make us go to the airport three hours in advance, to stand in huge queues at the security systems, to have to half unpack our bags to pass them through the detectors, to take off our shoes, boots, belts, pockets, etc.?

In the AVE the security systems are much simpler and less cumbersome and there are no attacks there. The fact that there was an attack in the Meridiana hypercor 24 years ago, has not required annoying security systems in shopping centers, and there have been no attacks there. Are we going crazy? Are we not getting things out of proportion? What if one day there is an attack? Well, the same as if one day there is an earthquake and my house falls on top of me. I can't spend my life thinking about how to defend myself against an earthquake. I prefer to spend it living. Let's not put gates in the field.

Let me not be misunderstood. It is not that I do not value life, far from it, but in a planet where 7,000 million people live there will always be accidents, natural disasters and crazy bombers, but the probability of dying in an air terrorist attack is infinitesimal, and with more bearable security measures it would still be infinitesimal, and no matter how many measures we put in place: it will not prevent someone from dying in an air terrorist attack. Wouldn't it be worth living a little less obsessed and more calm?

We are used to the State solving everything for us, which leads it to acquire responsibility for everything that happens to the citizen. With that responsibility on its shoulders, anyone can't put in place infinite control measures to watch over the hyper-protected citizen.

I think the long-suffering employees at position of the metal detectors at airports deserve a tribute. Through no fault of their own, they have to put up with the bad faces and anger of the passengers. Whenever I have to go through the metal detector or enter a plane, I always start by saying good morning to employee. I follow the process with a smile and finish by thanking them for the kindness with which they have treated me. They look at me with a surprised face and a lot of gratitude. Frequently they tell me: "I have been here all morning and you are the first passenger to say good morning to me". It is a few seconds of intense attention staff very comforting. I did the same thing the only time my car was towed away. It was years ago. Very angry when I went to pick it up, I realized what the municipal employees in charge of collecting the fine and refund the car had to endure. They are not to blame for anything. They are fulfilling their work and putting up with the furious drivers. So I paid the fine, with a smile I thanked the employee for his services and left him very pleasantly surprised. Try doing so in this subject circumstance. You will get a surprised thank you and we will improve human relations.