It may seem at times that there is a never ending and escalating occurrence of transnational security and/or international terrorism events but it is more a correlation between media reporting and social interest.

Fierce competition between traditional and online ‘content” has been waging for years, with each existing or new entity desperate for ratings, increased view counts and the ability to bring in advertising revenue, which is where they acutely make a profit. The result is that events that just a few years ago would have gone unreported or would be less prominent in the news cycle are now major events involving 24hr coverage, on-scene journalists, reenactments, changing visual graphics, social media overlap and drawn-out eyewitness accounts in addition to other supporting social sentiment and commentary. This is subsequently contributing to the dual effect of over communicating the event to the general public, who in turn are less able to effectively “rate” individual events in terms of severity, relevance to them or the real impact of such events; at the same time ‘conditioning’ them to be less shocked and alarmed with each subsequent event which is creating a degree of apathy or dismissive view that it is “still not affecting me”. Meanwhile slow burning issues, threats, and hazards are not garnishing the attention needed to prevent more likely or plausible threats to public safety and security.

The first phase of international terrorist events resulted in worldwide coverage, large social media followings, modified social profile images in support of the affected country, fundraising, celebrity support and statements of faith and commitment to the affected individuals, families and local citizens. It also spawned a creativity war on who had the most effective campaign of support or method for contributing to the event and the news going viral and reaching ever growing audiences. Many people also noted that whilst this issue/event remained the top agenda for content and news distribution agencies, almost no news broke through on any other event or location, unless it was either related or exceed the current tragedy. Generally, people were shocked, appalled, angry, saddened and likely a little more alert if not scared of the prospect of such a terrible event happening to their local community.

This sequence and impact remained true for the first few events, then there seemed to be a rapid sequence of related incidents and terrorist attacks that surfaced almost immediately after the last major event or almost simultaneously. What started as shock and support soon turned into “not more of this” or “is there anything else on the news” all before anything was actually done to mitigate and respond to the initial event/s. Real change and mitigation take consideration, collaboration, approvals, budgets, resources and time to implement. You don’t fix identified deficiencies in a national intelligence network overnight. You can’t surge the number of available police or military on the streets without affecting the quality or depleting other routine demands. You certainly can’t sustain all this, implement changes and make improvements without political and social support, not to mention supporting budget allocations. Again, nothing that is achievable in a couple of days. Sadly, it is this “need it now” social demand and “instantaneous gratification” influences that rate the official response and capability, often before adequate time has been taken for appropriate measures. This, in turn, results in “security theater” where the most expedient and visual appeasement is implemented first such as no liquids on flights, concrete blocks dropped around public areas, armed soldiers patrolling public areas and numerous other quick fix solutions that aren’t really much of a solution but keeps the masses happy. Whilst they are shocked, approvals are streamlined and the greater the outrage the more controlling the measures that are supported by the public and the impetus to act is lubricated by this supporting social call to action. Wait too long and you loose support, resources, and budgets. 

This brings us to where we are now. Any violent individuals who physically attacks one or more people with a knife or vehicle are now a terrorist? It depends on the country in which the incident occurs. It depends on the incident and the individual but far too many are on a hair trigger to leap on the “terrorism” gravy train with the first report. It has reinvigorated a range of “buy my opinion/solution/news feed services, praying on fear, uncertainty and doubt [FUD]. This has a massive negative effect on the profession of security, policing and public safety planning. Is the entire world far less stable and safe than it was a few years ago? Are thousands of people becoming victims or affected by events that were previously just “average crime” events? Not really.

What does it now take to shock a society into action? How “bad” does an event have to be to get a response, support or news coverage? Are there going to be false reports, overstated incidents and massive overreaction to certain events? All but guaranteed. Yes, some people failed in their assigned duties. Yes, some people failed to think like a bad guy. Yes, communities failed to listen to solutions proposed years ago that would have better protected against current tactics used. Yes, the “mad, bad, sad and outright crazy” aren’t totally incapable of causing harm to a group of people and avoiding detection until they are in the act. And yes, there aren’t black-clad ninja police officers hiding behind every bush and tree waiting to pounce in the event of a violent offender. Change will come. Change needs to come but the influence of recent reporting influences and social license to change will significantly factor in what, how quickly and to what extent these changes will look like in the end. Prison is for criminal offenders, not general, public communities.

Tony Ridley

Travel Safety Experts
Travel Safety Experts

Travel health, safety, security and risk management experts