November 25, 2012
“$100 billion spent and not one risk analysis study,” wrote the engineering prof friend of mine who sent me this link from a Charles Kenny piece in Business Week:
In 2010 the National Academy of Science reported the lack of “any Department of Homeland Security risk analysis capabilities and methods that are yet adequate for supporting decision making.” DHS (and the TSA in particular) is spending huge bundles of large denomination bills completely blind.All this spending on airline security is worse than wasteful. Following the official rules while still attempting to show decency toward passengers all but forces TSA employees to delay, embarrass, and inconvenience many thousands every day. Faced with the prospect of such unpleasantries this holiday season, countless Americans will skip the flight to grandma’s house and drive instead.
But compare the dangers of air travel with those of driving. To make flying as dangerous as using a car, a four-plane disaster on the scale of 9/11 would have to occur every month, according to analysis published in the American Scientist. Researchers at Cornell University estimate that people switching from air to road transportation in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks led to an increase of 242 driving fatalities per month–which means that a lot more people died on the roads as an indirect result of 9/11 than died from being on the planes that terrible day. The Cornell researchers also suggest that enhanced domestic baggage screening reduced passenger volume by about 5 percent in the five years after 9/11, and the substitution of driving for flying by those seeking to avoid security hassles over that period resulted in more than 100 road fatalities.
That’s not to say TSA employees bear responsibility for making the roads more dangerous–they’re just following incentives that reward slavish attention to rules over common sense. … Instead, the blame lies with politicians, the media, and yes, the traveling public, who will skewer officials over a single fatal plane incident while ignoring car crashes, gun homicides, and even bathtub accidents that kill far more than terrorism does.
The TSA should be encouraged in its efforts to expand lower-hassle approaches to airport security that don’t dissuade people from using one of the very safest ways to travel. Washington should ask itself why it values the life of an airplane passenger so much more than a bus or train passenger (or the daredevil bath-taker) in terms of the time-wasting, expense, and invasions of privacy it’s willing to tolerate to protect them from harm.