resilience | /ɹə.zɪl.ɪ.əns/

03 Jul 2010 | 384 words | airtravel amsterdam security terrorism

Last week thursday night someone tried to break in to our offices on the fourth floor of a building on the Keizersgracht in Amsterdam. in order to gain access to the office the wannabe-burglar(s) kicked in the door, pushing one of the wooden door panels into the room. it appears that they then waited to see if there was an alarm system and that they quickly left the building without taking anything from the office when the alarm sounded 20 seconds after the door was kicked in.

So while they had more or less unrestricted access to the office they did not take anything: Not one of our apple cinema displays, nor the cash box or even one of the bottles of fine french wine that we keep to entertain our guests. in other words, our system to prevent burglaries worked as intended: someone intended to break into the office but did not do any substantial damage because the alarm system went of and scared the wannabe-burglar(s) away.

Now the strange thing is that when you tell this story to others they react completely different: instead of recognizing this story as and example of something working as intended, people tend to see it as something negative (‘oh that’s terrible!’ is the usual reaction). Of course this reaction does not make any sense because this kind of event is exactly why we have an alarm in the first place.

Unfortunately this cognitive is not limited to smal scale burglary. It is very similar to how the public tends to react to failed terrorist plots like the shoe-bomber or the pants-bomber or the assorted idiots that are not even capable of blowing up their own cars (exhibit 1, exhibit 2). In all of these events the system worked as intended: no harm was done because the wanna-be terrorists did not manage to acquire explosives capable of inflicting actual harm or because they were simply too stupid to carry out their plots.

Instead of looking at these events as proof that open societies actually display a good measure of built in resilience, the public tends to interpret these events as proof that the terrorists are alive and well and the ‘security’ agencies thankfully exploit this cognitive bias to come up with more (and often absurd) ‘security’ measures.