For the most part though, I’m not fond of them. They insist on searching my car, looking in my bag, frisking me, and basically slowing me down when I enter the establishments they supposedly protect. What they’re looking for, I have no idea – and I bet they don’t know either. On top of this, they prevent me from taking photographs and give me nasty looks just because I have a nice camera – helping perpetuate the myth that photographers are terrorists. In short, (and I’m sure others share the sentiment) they make my life difficult.
You see, I’m not a fan of half-baked security measures: the cursory wand waving and bag “inspection” at mall entrances, the obligatory glance inside the trunk at parking lots, and other useless displays that do next to nothing to protect us. Bruce Schneier has a term for these displays: Security theater. The term, according to Wikipedia, “describes security countermeasures intended to provide the feeling of improved security while doing little or nothing to actually improve security.”
Before I go on, I want to explain what got me thinking about security in the first place. A live grenade was found in my alma mater. A former colleague then posted about it, saying that “the sad truth, though, is that campus security (the way it is in most schools anyway) is incredibly porous: nobody checks bags at the gate nor inspects vehicles entering the campus.” This, of course, led to me leaving a comment about security theater and writing my own post on the topic.
Now, I don’t know exactly how I feel about the topic – specifically, the topic of security at UA&P.
On one hand, I agree with Manny – we need better security on campus. Forget about safety for a moment, and just focus on smaller things – from what I’ve heard, thefts are more common now than back when I studied and worked there. Now somebody has left a grenade (and to quote Manny “the real McCoy, not a metaphorical one”) in the restroom? This is something that has to be addressed.
On the other hand, I expect any real, effective security measures to also be quite inconvenient. UA&P is not the largest school around, but any school with over 500 students, faculty, and staff is going to have a significant amount of pedestrian (and vehicular) traffic. Can you expect to screen everybody without slowing that traffic down to a crawl? I don’t think so.
Metal detectors? Let’s not go there. I don’t think any school would be very happy about spending a ton of cash on these large, unsightly contraptions when those funds can go to other projects that can offer a more tangible benefit to the students’ education. I’m not arguing that student safety isn’t important, but I’ll say this much – it would suck if to have to skimp on a student’s education because some idiot / maniac / bastard / (insert preferred insult here) forced you to spend on security measures instead. This last sentiment applies not only to metal detectors, but to anything the school does as a reaction to this idiot’s actions.
This last idea, reaction, is what I fear. I’m afraid the university will react to the found grenade and clamp down in fear of another incident. The cost isn’t just monetary, but I won’t explain that myself. Instead, I’ll let Seth Godin handle that:
- You wait in line at least twenty minutes
- There’s a scrum of pushing and shoving
- The staff are unhappy and not afraid to share it
- An unreasonable workload leads to fatigue and errors
- People miss their flights
In other words, we’re paying a significant tax (time and money) and getting nothing in return. In fact, we get worse than nothing. We could call it an anxiety program, instead of a tax. (After all, when you pay a luxury tax, you get some hard-won luxury as part of the deal).
He goes on, explaining, “We pay the fear tax every time we spend time or money seeking reassurance. We pay it twice when the act of seeking that reassurance actually makes us more anxious, not less.” I see anxious students, anxious professors, anxious staff, anxious everybody, and “enhancing” security on campus will only worsen this anxiety. I could be wrong, of course, but this is what I see.
Bruce Schneier pretty much sums up what I think is the right attitude to take after this incident: “Focus on the general risk of troubled teens, and not the specific threat of a lone gunman (ed. or grenadier, in this case) wandering around a school. Ignore the movie-plot threats, and concentrate on the real risks.” In other words, worry less about the fact that somebody brought a grenade on campus, and more about what drove them to do that.