The risk in not understanding risk

A recent article at Wired¬†comments on the 17-year-old string of missteps taken by the federal government in assessing the risks to federal buildings, at a multi-million-dollar cost to taxpayers. Neither part of that sentence — misunderstanding risk/probability or wasting taxpayer money — is new. ¬†

The Wired article reports on the flaws in the “interim software” the Department of Homeland Security has rolled out to assist in risk identification. With oh-so-cute acronyms like MIST and RAMP, what’s still missing in all this software are methods to evaluate the actual size of the risk and to track guard training and certification.

To the first issue — evaluating risk — the Congressional Research Office found that the software systems do not evaluate risk effectively. To calculate risk, you take the probability that a catastrophe might occur multiplied by the severity of the consequences.¬†That allows the logical person to prioritize risks based upon potential impact so that limited resources are appropriately deployed. Once you appropriately prioritize and “size” responses, you train resources to that strategic response plan.

This isn’t exactly rocket science; it’s just common sense: you put your resources where they can do the most good.

The second issue — improperly trained guards — resulted in a bag of explosives being mistakenly placed in Lost and Found in a Detroit federal building.

As a part of DHS, the TSA is at least internally consistent with the overall DHS approach. In an article published in Homeland Security Affairs, security experts John Mueller and Mark Stewart noted that the Congressional Research Office found that the TSA not only didn’t possess the skills of risk assessment, but actually calculated the math improperly.

The TSA also has given a pass on background checks to some airport employees, and it has glossed over, if not totally ignored, TSA screener training.

America: may I humbly inquire as to when we as citizens insist upon, at the very least, competence within the DHS and TSA? Aren’t 11 years of bumbling dress rehearsals enough to try even the most patient among us?

(Photo: Flickr Creative Commons/Vincent Desjardins)

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  • Not a TSA/West Fan!

    My Congressman is Allen West. Despite sending polite emails to him regarding the dastardly actions of the TSA, all I ever get is a “form letter” email telling me how busy his staff is and that he will send me an answer “as soon as possible” but I never receive one. However, I will continue to send my emails to West regardless. As a Tea Bagger, West is a sorry example of what poses for Congressional representation in America today. Never forget, your Congressional representatives are suppossed to work FOR YOU and not the other way around!

  • Kitten

    If one writes to one’s Senators and one’s Congressman regarding the TSA on average, every 2-3 months, and one is polite, and one receives no response from any of them, then what is the next suggested action? Other than not voting for those politicians in the next election, that is?

    • Kitten, there are many ways to resist, not just one. Many ways to protest, not just one. I’ve written about this a lot elsewhere on the web, but the answer is too long to leave in a comment, so I’ll do a post on it in the near future.

      In the meantime, even though most of our Congressional reps are worthless on this issue, keep bugging them. Make it impossible for them to ignore you. Believe me, they have ALL gotten tons of complaints from their constituents about the TSA.

    • anc1entmar1ner

      Kitten, please keep complaining, Even if your elected reps don’t respond, they DO count their mail. If we don’t complain we have no chance at all.

      Don’t forget to complain to the White House on and try to find a contact for the airport administration as well. Also be sure that TSA gets the message Complain to them at