Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Our Responsibility: Preparing for Low Probability/High Consequences Events

Juliette Kayyem, in The Atlantic magazine :
The “never again” standard is as absurd as it is simplistic. It is as vague as it is damaging. It tried to convince Americans, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, that invulnerability was a possibility. This has hindered homeland-security planners for a decade and a half: Knowing that no security apparatus can stop all forms of harm, including “lone wolfs,” progress is better measured in how well people prepare and educate themselves for the inevitable. What if the United States simply accepted, as a nation, that bad things happen and get ready for that possibility?
I agree with Juliette Kayyem about preparedness rather than a hopeless focus on prevention, but what does this really involve at the personal level?

With the exceptions of hurricanes in hurricane zones, major earthquakes in earthquake zones, and the like, most threats are individually highly dispersed and/or low probability/high consequences events.

Just as we reasonably expect our home to never burn down, but have insurance anyway, should we consider these individually improbable events like terrorism against us personally something we should individually insure against? If so, what to do?

I suspect that government in a relatively free society cannot deal easily with highly dispersed threats like terrorism or even random crime: police cannot be everywhere at all times, nor should we want them to be.

Several million Americans have gotten concealed carry licenses, while millions more have gotten their state legislatures to do away with the need for CCW licenses entirely. So far as I can tell, there have been no great negative consequences to either of those events. If there have been, the news media, no friend of law-abiding private citizens carrying handguns, has done a lousy job of covering them.

Imagine what might have been different in Orlando or Paris if if even a few people had been carrying guns. Given the US experience with legal concealed carry, background crime would not have been 'blood in the streets', while one or two people shooting back might have saved dozens of lives.

Even a strong defensive mindset might have made huge differences in the kill counts: apparently no one in Orlando or Paris counter-attacked even though the murderers had to pause multiple times to reload. Imagine if someone had the defensive mindset to attack, either with a chair, a bottle, or even barehanded. Instead they got out their cell phones and shot videos.

Wrong mind set.

The less radical preppers may be on to something: personal responsibility for one's self and family. I'm not talking about the quasi-millenarianist End Of The World As We Know It people, but those who take preparing for disasters quite seriously, with food, water, medical supplies, defensive weaponry, communication equipment -at least battery powered receivers so one can hear news reports- a ready reserve of cash (actual cash in small bills, in case the ATMs and cash registers are down for a few days or weeks), sanitation, and the like, sufficient for a few weeks.

It seems outright foolish not to have such preps if one lives in a hurricane or earthquake zone, but perhaps people in the rest of the country might do well by considering their own circumstances and prepare for the more likely disasters.

An interesting aspect to preparing for 'normal' short term disasters is that the preparations are pretty much the same: preparing well for the more probable issues also prepares one for the less probable.

Kayyem:
I have come to believe—as a security expert but also as a mother of three—that among all of its flaws, the worst aspect of “never again” was that it let experts like me run the show. We have failed to show that the conflicts and choices inherent in protecting the homeland are really not that different from those Americans and people around the world encounter every day. In our day-to-day lives, people try to protect those closest to them, but they also plan for the bad things that will happen. The essential aspects of those two priorities—preparedness, planning, flexibility, communication, back-up systems, learning from mistakes—are essentially the same. By too easily separating the homeland from the home, experts have failed to nurture the vigor and resiliency which is the greatest strength of a nation that was built on vulnerability: the American public.

And if the United States could build resiliency one home at a time, maybe, in another 15 years, the country will have stopped asking the question to some anonymous bureaucracy with strange acronyms and esoteric risk assessments: “Are we safer?” Instead, people should start embracing, “Am I ready?”
Taking personal responsibility is self-empowering. What is right about that?

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