…and you’re paying for it. That’s right.

On January 17th, F-15 fighter jets were scrambled to escort an Alaska Airlines flight to Sea-Tac Airport, because – get this – someone called and said there was a possible hijacker on board. Apparently, that’s all it took to scramble military jets to meet a commercial flight, haul a sleeping passenger off a flight on which there had been no incidents, no unusual activity, not even a drunk guy screaming. Since the military decided they didn’t want to  shoot the plane down, the passenger was then questioned for 3 hours before the feds found out he wasn’t a threat. Now… how many tax dollars do you think that cost you, huh?

The Cost of Misunderstood Security

Let’s be clear here – this isn’t the first time fighters have been scrambled to meet airliners, choppers, private jets and prop planes, in order to escort them to some airport or other, either because there’s been a report of something fishy, or because the plane is doing something it’s not supposed to.

According to NORAD, fighter jets have been scrambled over 1500 times since 9/11, all of those times the response has been unnecessary, and all of those over 1500 times, tax payers have had to pay dearly for the privilege of giving fighter pilots unscheduled training. Let’s say that again; all of the over 1500 instances of scrambling fighter jets to escort planes since 9/11 have been unnecessary. All of them.

Thinking that this is simply a necessary cost of increased security is wrong. The scrambling of fighter jets has nothing to do with security. The “See something, Say something” thing has nothing to do with security – hell, it’s not even a deterrent of any kind, it’s not even “security theater”, for that matter. It has nothing to do with having situational awareness, it has nothing to do with patriotism, and it has nothing to do with the “war on terror” or making the country safer for the citizens.

So what is it? A failure. Nothing more, nothing less. 

And the cost of all this failure? Ultimately, it lands on you, in the form of higher prices, increased taxes, increased insurance premiums, etc. We might never know what that one call to the FBI about a sleeping passenger on an Alaska Airlines flight cost the average tax-payer, but we’re sure there are both dollars and cents on there – not just a drop in the ocean. Now, multiply that number by 1,500 and see how you like it.

Overreaction to perceived threats is a direct cause of decreased security – we’ve said and written about that before, and it still holds true. Displays of power and military force against non-existent threats isn’t security either – it’s not security theater for that matter, despite what Bruce Schneier thinks – it’s simply overreaction. In this case, it’s a dangerous overreaction.

Situational Awareness vs. Paranoia

When was the last time you looked at the sky, and really noticed what was going on up there? When was the last time you looked up and really noticed the roofs of the buildings around you. For that matter, how often do you look around you in public places and try to remember the faces of the people around you – remember their clothes and what they’re doing? It doesn’t happen often, does it?

Situational awareness is knowing what your surroundings look like, and what’s going on around you. It’s all the things “See something, Say something” tries and fails to be. If you can manage to be aware of what’s going on around you, you can accurately determine whether a situation is threatening, and make the right call on what to do about it. It’s also an important tool to most security personnel and law enforcement – their lives depend on it every day, and without it, they would probably not ever go to work again.

Paranoia, on the other hand, is the baseline of “See something, Say something”. “See something, Say something” tells you to call the feds as soon as something looks like it might be just a little bit out of the ordinary. The program wants you to “say something” as soon as something is slightly out of place, someone behaves slightly off from what you expect, or from what you would do. Without any sort of filter or scrutiny – without any kind of risk analysis, in other words. Any slight change in your environment is perceived as a threat – sound familiar? It’s called paranoia.

A healthy alternative, anyone?

We’ve already mentioned what would be a healthy alternative to the current “See something, Say something” mania. It’s called situational awareness, and your government doesn’t trust you to be able to do it right. Or do it at all, really. Why? Because it depends on you to make some kind of risk analysis regarding the things that go on around you, it actually challenges your instinct to assess situations and see if there is any danger to you at all.

[…] If you spot something out of the ordinary that could be a threat, you can “dial yourself up” to a state of focused awareness and take a careful look at that potential threat — and also look for other threats in the area.

If the potential threat proves innocuous or is simply a false alarm, you can dial yourself back down into relaxed awareness and continue on your way. If, on the other hand, you look and determine that the potential threat is a probable threat, seeing it in advance allows you to take actions to avoid it. You may never need to elevate to high alert, since you have avoided the problem at an early stage. However, once you are in a state of focused awareness you are far better prepared to handle the jump to high alert if the threat does change from potential to actual — if the three suspicious-looking guys lurking on the corner do start coming toward you and look as if they are reaching for weapons. The chances that you will go comatose are far less if you jump from focused awareness to high alert than if you are caught by surprise and your mind is forced to go into high alert from tuned out. An illustration of this would be the difference between a car making a sudden stop in front of a driver who is practicing defensive driving and a car making a sudden stop in front of a driver who is sending a text message.

Check out our guide right here. It’s pretty awesome.


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