Terrorist Monitoring: False Alerts vs. Increased Security

Author: John Honovich, Published on May 06, 2010

After each terrorist attempt or incident, an increase in security efforts occur (often temporarily). Such increases demonstrate the tension between minimizing disruptions to daily life and maximizing the risk of stopping terrorist events.

In New York City, following the Time Squares terrorist attempt, security and shutdowns have increased including twice in a single day during the week after the attempt. Both alerts were false. One of the alerts resulted in: "police officers clear[ing] the area and [bringing] in a bomb squad to check the bag. They found a gray shirt, white tube socks, a toothbrush and pens."

In the US, its these type of events - false alerts revealed to be nothing - that leads to swing back towards lack security.

A commenter from Israel offered a diverging perspective: In Israel, "there is no way that an unattended package, luggage or even a suspicious car is not immediately reported to a special police unit. In the US, and especially in the NY area, there is a problem of the enormous human resources that the police may have to use, but I don’t see any choice."

Ultimately, this is not a question of right or wrong but tolerance to the disruptions (economically and personally) that security entail. Historically, in the US and most 'first world' countries, these disruptions were viewed as too high a cost to the overall society. Until and unless that changes, the penalties of false alerts will continue to shape buying habits towards less optimal security with less disruptions.

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