911 and Beyond Presage an Era of Essay

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911 and Beyond Presage an Era of New Terrorism? What Problems Does this Pose in Terms of Risk Management?

For airports and the airline industry worldwide, the events of September 11, 2001 were absolutely catastrophic, especially in the United States, and resulted in major changes in risk assessment and security procedures. In the United States, all airline security was removed from the hands of the airlines and private contractors and turned over to the federal government. Essentially, the Transportation Security Administration took control of the screening of passengers, cargo and baggage. Because it was the most influential country in the world and the largest market, the U.S. was also able to insist that other countries follow its revised security procedures as well, or be denied access to American air space. Security procedures that had been in place for decades were radically overhauled and intensified, since this generation of terrorists was far better trained, financed and organized than those in the past. Even worse, they were more fanatical and prepared to commit suicide in the belief that God would bless them as martyrs to the cause. No one had really anticipated that they would use aircraft as flying bombs to cause maximum death and destruction to ground targets. Prior to September 11th, the worst case scenario imagined by risk managers and insurance companies was that two passenger planes would collide, or that hijackers would take over planes and demand money or the freeing of political prisoners. After September 11th, they could imagine terrorists who would use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons to destroy a large city.

Several American airlines were driven into bankruptcy by the September 11th attacks, and this was in an industry that had long been in poor condition after deregulation in 1978. Stock values for all airlines worldwide fell by 30%, but in the U.S. they collapsed overnight, and had the government not responded with billions of dollars in emergency grants and loans the entire industry would have failed. Given these traumatic events, the airline industry has taken the position that it simply cannot survive any more attacks like these. They must always be prevented at all costs, and governments will have to pick up most of the costs rather than attempting to pass these on to passengers. This meant more money for new technology, including baggage screening equipment, explosive detectors, bomb and chemical sniffing dogs, microchips in identity documents and facial and iris recognition software. Within a few years, over 45,000 people were employed by the TSA, including thousands of armed air marshals, although other countries resisted this policy, as they did the arming of pilots and flight crew. Since the insurance industry was unwilling or unable to provide coverage for terrorist attacks, this meant that governments also had to take action in this area lest the air industry cease to function. Passengers have been profiled, particularly young Muslim and Arab males in ways that often seem racist and contrary to civil rights. Passengers have been inconvenienced by long lines and intensified screening, including hand searches, and inevitably security personnel have been accused of incompetence, racism, brutality of worse, all of which opens governments and airlines to lawsuits. For the airlines, though, who lost so many passengers after September 11th that they did not recover for four years, all of this intensified security is absolutely essential to prevent another such incident that would destroy public confidence in the industry.


In counterterrorism policy, risk assessment can follow several different models, such as COSO, which includes assessment, response, governance, prevention and mitigation, as well as the development of metrics to assess all potential risks. RAND Corporation, on the other hand, "advocates events-based models that include detailed analysis of vulnerability and consequence of specific terrorist attack scenarios" (Kennedy and McGarrell 2011, p. 2). Its purpose is note to provide optimal security but to prevent major errors like the failure to anticipate the September 11th attacks. Risk assessment is probabilistic of necessity, and always considers a wide variety of factors such as information and intelligence about terrorists, surveillance and mitigation in determining the most likely threats and preventing them. Public support is essential in counterterrorism, especially because of the threat to "privacy and freedom of movement" (Kennedy and McGarrell, p. 3). In its own risk assessments, the U.S. government always combines analysis of threats, vulnerabilities and consequences, with resources applied to the most likely targets and most vulnerable areas, with big cities like New York and its iconic monuments at the top of the list. Airport and airline security, however, is based on the premise that "we need to be right all the time, the terrorist needs only to be right once" (Kennedy and McGarrell, p. 3). Their risk management policy is that all terrorist attacks must be prevented in humanly possible because the industry simply cannot withstand another catastrophe like September 11th.

Companies that do not engage in risk management today are in danger in collapse, and short of all-out war, no greater danger exists to airports and airlines than the risk of terrorism. For the airline industry, events like September 11, 2001 represent a catastrophic risk that could prove lethal, so much so that a repetition of these vents must be avoided at all costs. These attacks were devastating on the global level to the point where it is "now doubtful that the industry will survive in its present state" (Makinen 2002, p. 54). In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, governments were attempting to decide whether terrorism could even be considered an insurable risk or whether it was simply an act of war, as Congress classified the September 11th attacks. The damage to the American air carriers was without "precedent in aviation history," and it drove U.S. Airways and United Airlines into bankruptcy (Makinen, p. 4). It cost the insurance industry at least $40 billion and in its aftermath only a few insurers were "offering limited, restricted, and expensive insurance policies for terrorism" (Makinen, p. 5). Without these, airlines simply would not be able to operate in certain areas or have to fly at their own risk, unless governments step in and provide insurance. This event also caused "a once-and-for-all drop in productivity in the airline industry" as it had to devote more resources and money to heightened levels of security and increased passenger fees to cover it (Makinen, p. 13).

The main goal of terrorism is to promote fear and insecurity in the public mind all out of proportion to the actual military and economic damage that terrorist groups can inflict. This is why they depend heavily on mass media publicity to spread anxiety and fear, and if the perception of the threat is great enough then there will be greater "willingness to place restrictions on civil liberties to increase safety and security" (Breckenridge and Zimbardo 2007, p. 117). Terrorists also understand that dramatic televised images of their acts have a greater impact and shock value than print stories. Airline passengers will demand more intensive security screenings, while at the same time become irritated at the delays, long lines and invasion of privacy. Fear will also stimulate a "pessimistic assessment of risk," although airlines and passengers will generally assume that someone else is always more likely to be a victim of terrorism rather than themselves (Breckenridge and Zimbardo, p. 118). Those who have already experienced violent traumas like these will be the most likely to react with extreme fear and anxiety and to suffer from psychiatric disorders. On the other hand, genuine "mass hysteria and panic is rare," except in situations where the dangers are immediate and the chances of escape very limited (Breckenridge and Zimbardo, p. 119).

Airlines and passengers also tend to underestimate the risks because actual terrorist acts are still relatively rare compared to accidents and natural disasters. Michael Rothschild estimated that an individual has a one in 400 chance of dying of heart disease and a one in 600 chance of dying of cancer in any given year, the odds of airline passengers experiencing a terrorist attack are one in 500,000 (Breckenridge and Zimbardo, p. 119). Nevertheless the public perception of danger is much higher than that, so much so that after September 11th the airline and travel industry lost $60 billion in the U.S. alone and drove several major airlines into bankruptcy. Airline travel did not return to pre-September 11th levels until 2005, and the overall effects on the global airline and travel industry were catastrophic. For obvious reasons, then, airports and airlines follow a risk avoidance policy with terrorism and will take any steps necessary to prevent even one terrorist incident. A repetition of an attack like September 11th could very well destroy an airline, especially in recessionary times like these. This is simply not a risk that the industry or any individual airline can endure, even with governments ready to step in and prop…[continue]

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