21-23 Aug 2024
ICC, Sydney

Seven Seconds of Fame Or Several Years Of Pain?

It has been fascinating and somewhat unsettling to watch the media frenzy that has occurred in the aftermath of the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370.

The scramble to be the first to report the latest news, the newest theory or the inside scoop has resulted in some interesting viewing/reading. Of course, in the rush to be the first, news outlets, radio stations and TV producers have been shaking every tree in an effort to find security experts with suitably impressive titles who are prepared to go on the public record and make headline grabbing statements.

It can be very flattering when you are asked to appear as an expert on a television program or radio broadcast, or to be quoted in a major newspaper. However, in such situations, it is imperative that one be mindful of the long-term consequences of his or her actions.

Aviation security is not an insignificant matter. It can and does cost airlines millions of dollars per year – adding extra layers to that process can easily cost additional millions per year. Furthermore, following the events of 9/11 back in 2001, the dip in tickets sales experienced across the aviation sector (resulting in a lack of confidence from travellers) drove some airlines out of business while virtually crippling others. All it takes is one careless comment, one poorly worded statement from a purportedly reputable expert to send politicians and the public into a panic and before you know it, we are all once again queuing up for hour after hour before a flight and enduring multiple screening checks.

Don’t get me wrong, such measures are well and good – if they are warranted; if the threat profile is commensurate to the action. However, going out and making public, sensationalist statements in the absence of any real evidence has no positive benefit for anyone. We all know that politicians are often prone to knee-jerk reactions, needing to be seen to be doing something, regardless of whether or not it is actually going to achieve anything. The efficacy of the actions are often less important than the need to reassure the public that they (the politicians) are ‘on top of it’.

I also do not think I am being unkind in saying that average member of the public has a tendency to believe the statements they hear from experts on television and radio, which is why every security professional needs to be very careful about publically voicing his or her personal theories and hypotheses in the aftermath of such tragic incidents. After all, the very definition of security is to be free from danger or fear. Therefore, to make statements which create fear is to work at cross-purposes to one’s own profession.

The allure of public recognition can be a potent one and I do not suggest that the media should be shunned or ignored. I simply suggest that security professionals have a responsibility to think very carefully about what they say publically during a crisis, lest one’s seven second of fame create many years of pain.

About the author: John Bigelow (Editor in Chief, Interactive Media Solutions)

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