When protection from bad events is too much

Have you ever been to a baseball game or a hockey game?  If so, then you know that there are risks at both from flying balls or pucks.  Some people get hurt, sometimes seriously, when they are struck by a horsehide ball or a vulcanised rubber puck traveling at very high speeds.  Hockey made changes to arenas years ago when they erected netting behind the goals since that is where the greatest risk was – shots directed at the net which were deflected and ended up among the spectators.  Baseball similarly has a screen behind home plate since that too is where the greatest risk is from foul balls.

Now, it appears that baseball’s brain trust is erecting even more netting down the baselines to protect fans from other foul balls.  This move may be in response to a few unfortunate incidents where severe injury took place and thus might make sense to some, but others are not happy as the placement of fine mesh between them and the players is interfering with traditional enjoyment of the game.

The question I want to pose here is: how much ‘protection’ do we need and how much is too much?   There will always be unfortunate incidents and always some guy, especially in the heavily litigious US, who sues because he got hit by a line drive.  Interestingly, I find, others are blaming those who bring infants to a ball game and those staring at their I-phones rather than paying attention to the action for many such mishaps.

This topic takes on even greater import when we learned that the Toronto Blue Jays will install concrete bollards and close streets near the Rogers Centre at the start and end of games this year.  This decision may have come down from Major League Baseball bigwigs themselves.  People living near the stadium will have to show ID to get to their homes.

Why on earth is this happening?  Is there a concrete threat to baseball fans in Toronto?  I have no idea whether CSIS, or the RCMP, or Toronto Police for that matter have specific  intelligence on a plot to attack games but I suspect that something else is afoot. In the wake of vehicular attacks around the world – we have had two in Canada in the last four years and one took place today in France – we have seen that any idiot with a car and a cause can run people down.  As a result, officials are probably assuming the worst and taking steps to prevent, where possible, any repeat.

But is this a case of too much security ?  Liability and the threat of lawsuits aside, are we building walls and barriers that are disproportionate to the actual threat?  How much does this extra security cost?  Sure, one death from a terrorist attack is one too many but has no one done the math on this?  Given that Canada has seen two deaths from terrorism since 9/11 and at most a dozen plots is this not overkill?

Maybe not.  Maybe this is the new normal that we will have to put up with, until we don’t.  At some point overt security that infringes on our ability to enjoy an event may reach a tipping point and if enough people complain it may lead politicians to alter their response to the terrorist threat which, in this country at least, is barely measurable.  Then again, maybe not. Maybe we are inured to seeing increased security and have resigned ourselves to it.

Yet part of me thinks that by ramping up security and making normal life more and more inconvenient we are in essence granting a small victory to the terrorists themselves. They often brag that they will drain us financially over time and perhaps they are. It is becoming such that all a man like Al Qaeda leader Ayman Al Zawahiri has to do is issue some precise or vague threat online and everyone jumps.  Think of the return on investment if you are Mr. AQ.

So, once again I am calling for perspective on the very real and very serious terrorist scourge.  We have to ensure that we have the resources to investigate and neutralise those that mean us harm but we cannot keep spending money to render each and every menace ineffective.  We cannot get the risk to zero no matter how much money we dole out.  Perhaps more sober thought is required on this front.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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