It’s a balancing act: security for sharks

30 Oct

( By Phil “SD” , the Crossfit London Self Defence Expert)

Wise Woman: Very well, then there are three solutions, three cures for thy ailment. The first is simple: Kill Bob!

Blackadder: Never!

Wise Woman: Then try the second: kill yourself!

Blackadder: And the third?

Wise Woman: The third is to ensure that no one else ever knows.

Blackadder: Ah, that sounds more like it! How?


Why am I quoting Blackadder?  Apart from the fact that it’s always funny?  Well, this article is about the act of balancing security (that ISN’T a dirty word) and the trade-offs that invariably come with it.  The Wise Woman (two things should you know about her!)  proposes a number of security measures to counteract  the risk to Edmund’s security of people discovering that he’s in love with his manservant (no, an actual manservant).  All of them go some way towards mitigating the risk, but all come with a certain cost, whether it be heartbreak, injury or a lot of effort.  And this applies to all the decisions we make about security – and in fact just about all decisions full stop.

Trawling the internet, you will come across acres of advice and prescription regarding how to improve your personal security, much of it contradictory.  You can easily come away feeling inadequate because you don’t walk everywhere backwards and employ a food taster, or worried you’re paranoid because you shred your mail.  What’s a person to do?

The answer lies in making a rational cost-benefit analysis.  Ask yourself:

What risk am I trying to mitigate? A risk is the probability of a threat (having your purse stolen, dying from cholera) occurring combined with the severity of its consequences.  Terrorist attacks on planes are very rare, but the consequences are generally catastrophic; car crashes are far more common, but are less likely to result in fatalities.  Some research can help at this stage. When choosing how to stay cool on your tropical island, it might be instructive to know that the odds of being killed by a shark are put at 300,000,000/1, whereas there’s a 250,000,000/1 chance of being felled by a falling coconut.  Unfortunately, no one seems to have calculated the odds of a shark being killed by a coconut, which is probably why you never see sharks wearing hard hats.

How much does the security measure mitigate the risk? This can be hard to assess, but is an important part of the overall equation.  Often, security measures can give the illusion of being effective, without really addressing the actual risk.  One of the responses to the 9/11 attacks was to insist that all internal flights required photo ID.  Virtually all the attackers had valid passports, driving licences etc, so that particular measure would not have prevented them from carrying out their attack.  The security measure does not mitigate the risk.

What are the costs of the measure? There is almost always a cost of some sort to implementing a security measure.  Passwords can be forgotten, holding up your attempts to book a holiday online; bulletproof vests are expensive and uncomfortable; vaccinations hurt and can make you ill.  Some costs occur at a remove from the implementation of the measure: making bike helmets compulsory deters some people from cycling, removing the one bit of exercise they would otherwise do, and obesity and cardiovascular disease increase as a consequence.

Is the trade-off worth it? This is – in the context of self protection –  a very personal calculation. Only you can decide if not going out after dark to avoid the small risk of being mugged is a worthwhile trade-off; or driving huge distances is preferable to being in an air crash.  The latter example also highlights another issue about the cost implication above: sometimes we exchange one risk for another, and sometimes the new risk is actually greater than the original one!  Why this occurs is a matter for another day, but has to do with the nature of fear and a malfunction in people’s intuitive risk analysis when it is taken out of the relatively straightforward environment in which we evolved and put to work in a very complex modern world.

Applying the above steps will allow you to understand your security choices and rationalise why they might differ from others’ approaches.  You’ll be able to sleep more soundly at night, secure in the knowledge that your life is in balance, and sharks can’t climb stairs; and if they can, the coconut tree you’ve placed in your bedroom should sort them out.

The first Crossfit London  UK “self defence” seminar is on 7th  November. Get your ticket by clicking here

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