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Aviation Security – A Risk Management Case Study

Aviation security is vey much in the news again.  First came calls to review the need for some of the more onerous checks on air travellers and then – with the discovery of 2 bombs in cargo planes – came calls for tougher security across the entire air transport system.  How do we accommodate these opposing viewpoints and strike a sensible balance between security and the efficient operation of air transport.

In his excellent book “Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly About Security in an Uncertain World”, Bruce Schneier offers a simple but effective process for analysing security solutions(or indeed any other risk management activity).  It consists of 5 questions as follows:

  • What assets are you trying to protect?
  • What are the risks to these assets?
  • How well does the solution mitigate these risks?
  • What other risks does the solution cause?
  • What costs and trade-offs does the solution impose?

Applied sensibly, these question are a great help in assessing if the costs (direct and indirect) of the proposed solution are justified.  In particular, question 4 helps to avoid the unintended consequences that so often attend well-intentioned attempts to reduce risk.  I would commend their use to all those involved in the ongoing debate about aviation security at this difficult time.