Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Public Relations–The Only Investment in Aviation Security That Works

The history of PR is… a history of a battle for what is reality and how people will see and understand reality. - Stuart Ewen

Since we cannot change reality, let us change the eyes which see reality. - Nikos Kazantzakis

The #1206 “fiction” series continues …

In a meeting room at FAA Headquarters on Independence Avenue in Washington, DC, representatives of the commercial aviation industry sat around a large boardroom table.  They had been summoned to address concerns over aviation security and the rumors that such security was still a non-existent fantasy.

One by one, they answered questions from bureaucrats seated around the table.  The questions were direct and to-the-point and the bureaucrats asking the questions did not challenge any of the responses from the aviation representatives.

The Secretary of Transportation said nothing as he watched his team interrogate the aviation officials.  When the last of the questions had been asked and answered, silence pervaded the boardroom as he clasped his fingers together, frowned and pursed his lips.

After a brief pause, he leaned forward in his chair.

Clearing his throat, he addressed the boardroom.  “So after hearing all of the evidence presented by the industry today, the fears of myself and my team have been confirmed.  Despite spending billions on aviation security over the decades, we are no closer to preventing an explosive device from being planted on an aircraft nor are we any closer to preventing cockpit compromises similar to those that occurred on 9/11.  Am I correct in my understanding or have I missed something in your presentations?”

The aviation officials said nothing, some of them squirming nervously in their chairs while others stared at the boardroom table to avoid the gaze of the Secretary.

”So what you are saying”, he continued, “Is that while it is unlikely that a specific individual could be killed in a terrorist act in an aircraft, the likelihood that someone will be killed by a terrorist act is very high.  Is that what you are telling me?”

“That would be correct, Mr. Secretary”, said a voice at the other end of the table.

The Secretary nodded for a moment before responding.  “Do you realize that knowledge of such an inconvenient truth could derail your industry and cripple the economy of the entire nation?”

His question was again met by silence.

“Hmmmmmph”, grunted the Secretary, “That’s what I thought.  Well, if we can’t secure the aviation industry or any place where the public congregates for that matter, then we will have to promote things such that the people believe they are secure anyway.  In anticipation of this, I have invited some guests to make a presentation to those of us assembled here today.”

He nodded to the aide sitting at his side and the aide promptly stood up and left the room.

The aide returned a few minutes later with three individuals.

“Ladies and gentlemen”, began the Secretary, “The Secretary of Homeland Security needs no introduction.  I would, however, like you to meet two of the most brilliant public relations people in the nation.”

In a small street-side cafe in a city in the Middle East, two men argued passionately over their coffees.  One argued for quicker action against the infidel in the west while the other argued for a more patient, methodical approach.

Finally, the younger of the two men couldn’t contain his anger any longer.  “I don’t understand you”, he exploded, “What in the name of Allah is the value in training some of our best people in public relations?  We need fighters and not talkers.”

“Patience, my friend”, his companion replied.

“Patience”, he said again, his voice trailing off as his mind travelled westward and he wondered how his companions were doing.

To be continued.

© 2015 – Harry Tucker – All Rights Reserved

Addendum – Humans – The Weakest Link – March 26, 2015

News about the Germanwings crash this week indicating that the co-pilot may have deliberately crashed the aircraft puts this aircraft on a shortlist of planes known to have been deliberately crashed by crew members.

In a strange twist of irony, the processes implemented after 9/11 that were designed to keep hijackers out of an aircraft cockpit may have kept the pilot out of the cockpit in this instance, thus preventing him from saving the aircraft from doom.

There have been other stories over the years of crew members suddenly needing to be restrained by fellow crew members and passengers after exhibiting behavior that endangered an aircraft.

It goes to show that when one needs to rely on the weakest link, humanity, that there are never any guarantees of safety.


Two themes are present here.

The first is that the aviation industry (or any public place for that matter) can never be secured as long as there is a human element present in managing that security.  We are always our own weakest link, whether it is in preventing explosives from being planted on aircraft, weapons being carried onto an aircraft or in preventing the wrong people from gaining access to the cockpit.  All are still realistic possibilities today.

The second theme is that if someone could be convinced by an insider to diminish action in favor of merely promoting positive spin as the government is doing now, then the risks to the aviation industry could be increased even further.

Meetings as described in this post have been taking place in the commercial aviation industry for years.

No results of merit in relation to true security have ever been produced and the aviation industry has resigned itself to acceptable losses of passengers and assets.  The use of statistics in promoting the likelihood that you will not die at the hands of a terrorist are accurate.  However, the darker side of statistics, that someone will die, are also accurate but are not promoted.

This is not something to be upset about since the reality is that the aviation industry cannot be totally secured.

But it would be interesting if the government and aviation industry admitted this instead of spending billions for security procedures and equipment that complicate the average passenger’s Life while leaving the trained, patient terrorist with plenty of time and opportunity to plot what they intend to accomplish anyway. 

The difficulty is that the truth is often so inconvenient for government intentions and agendas that many people are better off without it.  Most people couldn’t deal with the truth anyway so what difference does it make for them whether we know the truth or not?  Ignorance is truly bliss in today’s world.

Meanwhile, we continue to be lucky in the aviation industry.

I wonder how long our luck will last.

I had close friends who were killed by terrorists on 9/11, both on the ground and in the air.

They weren’t so lucky.

Series Origin

This series, a departure from my usual musings, is inspired as a result of conversations with former senior advisors to multiple Presidents of the United States, senior officers in the US Military and other interesting folks as well as my own professional background as a Wall St. / Fortune 25 strategy and large-scale technology architect.

While this musing is just “fiction” and a departure from my musings on technology, strategy, politics and society, as a strategy guy, I do everything for a reason and with a measurable outcome in mind. :-)

This “fictional” musing is a continuation of the #1206 series noted here.

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