Monday, July 23, 2012

How Did It Make You Feel?

Frankly, Diane, the whole thing has disturbed me all weekend...

Diane Ritchey, Editor in Chief at Security Magazine (one of my regular reads) asked on LinkedIn ASIS International group today:

Do you think that ‘lone wolf’ incidents such as the recent Colorado movie theatershootings are growing or not? Take our new poll at securitymagazine

In a reply at LinkedIn and in an email I answered as follows...

The poll's title - ‘Lone Wolf’ Terror - is misleading and inflammatory. The tragedy in Colorado was certainly terrible and terrifying, but it was not terrorism.  The term, on the other hand, is almost exclusively used with an -ism on the end and applies to a completely different but highly charged issue.

The reply options are too narrow and inflexible.  

* Yes
* Yes, and we have procedures in place to mitigate those types of incidents. We are prepared.
* Yes, and we are working on internal procedures to prepare. It’s a work in progress.
* No, the Colorado movie theater shooting was an isolated incident.

We ought to be able to vote:

* No, the Colorado movie theater shooting was an isolated incident AND we have procedures in place and are constantly working on others to mitigate the frequency and severity of all crimes - rare or common, violent or not - that affect our business.

Even security practitioners need to be careful not to fall victim to the wide variety of cognitive biases humans are prone to. As Bruce Schneier reminds us in his excellent essay, The Psychology of Security...

* People exaggerate spectacular but rare risks and downplay common risks.
* People have trouble estimating risks for anything not exactly like their normal situation.
* Personified risks are perceived to be greater than anonymous risks.
* People underestimate risks they willingly take and overestimate risks in situations they can't control.
* Last, people overestimate risks that are being talked about and remain an object of public scrutiny. 

The killings and mayhem in Aurora weigh heavily on everyone, but especially security professionals. Events like this - rare or not - challenge our assumptions about our ability as individuals, parents, professionals, and citizens to protect ourselves, our families, our coworkers, and our community.  Holmes hit us at our most vulnerable, as we sat in the dark enjoying one of America's favorite pastimes.

The poll question itself, "Do you think that ‘lone wolf’ incidents such as the recent Colorado movie theater shootings are growing or not?" has a statistically valid answer that will not change regardless how we think - or feel - about it.  The violent crime rate in America is at a 40 year low.  Mass murder is rare; that's one of the reasons the news media tells us about it in fine-grained, lurid detail whenever and wherever it happens.

Instead of being guided solely by our emotions during a time of shock, sadness, and uncertainty security professionals and other business leaders must balance the emotional with the rational so that we can serve as a source of strength and confidence to our employers and clients.