This past weekend homeland security expert Juliette Kayyem had an op-ed in The Washington Post unfortunately titled (by the editors I’d assume…), “No, America isn’t 100% safe from terrorism. And that’s a good thing.”
Obviously provocative but, in my view, unnecessarily vague in regards to the point of the piece. But whatever. The important thing is the message:
Is my family safe?The answer is both simple and liberating: No, not entirely. America was built vulnerable, and thank goodness for that.
The flow of people and things, the movement to and within cities, the congregation of the masses that makes our lives meaningful, whether at church or at Fenway Park, are inherently risky. Our system (a federal government with limited powers, mayors overseeing police departments, governors directing National Guards) wasn’t designed to produce a seamless shield against every conceivable threat. Every day, more than 2 million passengers board planes at U.S. airports. The movement of goods and services — the expectation that everything from airline tickets to groceries can be purchased with just a few mouse clicks — is our lifeline. We’ve traded a measure of safety for convenience. And in our America, there are sometimes monsters under the bed.
Kayyem identifies the problem as the unwillingness of our leaders to speak the truth about our situation:
Threats constantly change, yet our political discourse suggests that our vulnerabilities are simply for lack of resources, commitment or competence. Sometimes, that is true. But mostly we are vulnerable because we choose to be; because we’ve accepted, at least implicitly, that some risk is tolerable. A state that could stop every suicide bomber wouldn’t be a free or, let’s face it, fun one.
And she suggests a path forward:
Yet we still live, often joyfully, in a world with gun violence. And drunk drivers. And disease. We implore government to allocate resources as best it can to minimize those risks. Once we move past our angst, this becomes the most rational way to approach terrorist violence.
Accepting these vulnerabilities means our safety can be measured and evaluated on three core premises: how well we minimize our risks, maximize our defenses and maintain our spirit.
The entire piece is worth your time reading, and worth sharing with friends, family, and loved ones who might not have a grasp on the concept of risk management.