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Cities are often resilient places. They can endure hazardous weather, crime, poverty, financial crises or even terrorist attacks, and yet still manage to bounce back. At their backbone are networks of people dedicated to public safety who prepare for disasters if they were to occur. In the public’s eye, this usually includes the local police and fire brigade yet there are many more involved behind the scenes from community groups to city councils, all the way to national government. Community resilience is not something simply built from the top down, but grown from the ground up.
London, Newcastle and other cities in the UK involved in the Olympics have prepared for the possibility of security risks such as terrorist attacks, but also more common risks such as traffic jams and overcrowding. But in order to prepare for these events and build resilience to them if or when they occur, cities must depend on people whose job it is to not only prepare communities, but communicate between government and other structures in place that are expected to manage them. Read more
Anyone who has been through airport security in the US before and after 11 September 2001 knows how it has transformed politically, socially and technologically. Other countries, especially the UK, have fallen suit using similar scanning and surveillance technologies in large international airports such as Heathrow. But the majority of passengers are ‘low risk’ meaning that they are unlikely to commit an act of terrorism either at the airport or when airborne. Yet they are still often times forced to submit to procedures that are built upon the premise that they could be a terrorist or if not a terrorist then a potential threat or disruption to airport security, if not national security. This is problematic for a number of reasons, especially considering the resources invested into securing airports from potentially anyone distracts from the ‘real terrorists’, whoever they may be. In response to this conundrum, the TSA in the US is piloting ‘risk-based’ approaches to enhance airport security. While avoiding the obvious non-culprits such as children, people over 75 and those serving in the armed forces, the TSA plans to depend more on techniques that monitor behaviour and implement ways to ‘pre-check’ passengers such as biometric verification and behaviour monitoring techniques. Read more
A recent study from the University of Maryland funded in part by the Dept of Homeland Security in the US mapped out the concentration of terrorist attacks throughout the country from 1970-2008. The findings show that the number of attacks has been significant in urban areas such as Los Angeles and New York City over time, but many terrorist attacks actually took place in rural areas. The primary source of data for the study is the Global Terrorism Database that includes not only attacks from foreign terrorist groups, but attacks from home-grown leftist and right-wing ‘extremists’, along with violent religious groups. Authors of the study define terrorism broadly as ‘the threatened or actual use of illegal force by non-state actors, in order to attain a political, economic, religious or social goal, through fear, coercion or intimidation’. Taking this definition into account, the number of terrorist attacks in the US has actually dropped significantly since the early 1970s. Read more
A news agency specialised in investigative reporting in the US, ProPublica, released an informative series of reports (here, here and here) on the use of body scanning technology by the Transport Security Agency, who is responsible for implementing and regulating travel security measures under the Homeland Security Act of 2002. After its 10th anniversary, many people are wondering what the TSA has actually accomplished in making airports in the US safe from terrorism. The articles focus on the use of body scanners, which are at the focal point of controversies surrounding the TSA. Early on, before the body scanners were first introduced, there was concern as to whether they could pose a significant health risk as the x-ray scanners use ionising radiation that could cause cancer in a minority of airline passengers that pass through them. This is due to the fact that since millions of people enter the scanners the probability of an unfortunate few getting cancer from the machines goes up.
“Even though it’s a very small risk, when you expose that number of people, there’s a potential for some of them to get cancer,” said Kathleen Kaufman, the former radiation management director in Los Angeles County… ProPublica
This health risk is considered low based on the amount of ionising radiation people receive from scanners, which is much less than what they receive while airborne. People receive much larger doses of ionising radiation from being bombarded with cosmic rays when travelling by air at high altitudes. In fact, pilots and flight attendants are actually classified as ‘radiation workers’. According to a study from NASA, flight routes at high latitudes potentially increase radiation exposure to passengers during solar storms. In the case of x-ray body scanners, it is one of a number of risks that air passengers must endure. Read more
After the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center (WTC) and the Pentagon, there is still much work to be done in how security, terror and risk are understood and prepared for in society. Like financial crises, it is not so much a matter of if it will happen, but when it will happen. The goal of increased security intelligence is to mitigate risk of any terrorist attack, but a recent review of national security in the US from the federal and state levels, all the way to the security technologies used by airports, shows that vulnerabilities do exist and they need to be addressed as soon as possible. The 9/11 attacks not only changed how the United States viewed the risk of terror, but resonated with countries throughout the world who have experienced terrorist attacks since that tragic event, including the 7/7 bombings in London, the bombing of commuter trains in Madrid, the Belsan school hostage crisis in Russia that killed 330 people (mostly children) and a whole list of others.
The 9/11 Commission’s report, while literary in tone and revealing of a number of important details about the attacks, still only provides a limited scope of what actually took place before and after the attacks. There were a number of testimonies left out of the report including one given by a former translator for the FBI, Behrooz Sarshar, who said he had knowledge of a ‘kamikaze pilot’ plan to attack the US. He was formally interviewed by the 9/11 Commission who received pressure from the 9/11 Family Steering Committee to take Sarshar’s testimony and although a memorandum of this meeting is available online, it is heavily edited, with much of its content omitted. Sarshar said he had written to FBI Director Robert Mueller twice about what he knew, but did not do so until November 2002 and again in January 2003, long after the attacks. When asked why he waited so long to bring forward this information ‘he said he didn’t want to do any damage to the FBI’. Sarshar’s and other potentially useful testimonies were left out of the 9/11 Commission’s report. Read more