Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Underpants Bomber & Crowd-Sourced Safety

For all the billions of dollars (and hours of time) spent on airline safety, the actual take down of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was by people in the plane. It was adjacent people, using common sense and common reactions, that foiled the plan.

It occurs to me that we could think of this from the crowd sourcing perspective. It is crowd-sourced safety.

Fifty million people flew last year. That is fifty million potential watchdogs and actors. We could decide that only 10 percent of that population would be competent to act, still pretty good and likely enough.

If you see something, DO something.

Do I really think that civilians should be trained to disarm terrorists in flight? No. But it does seem to me that these passengers are likely one of the best lines of defense. Isn’t this what happened with the plane that was forced to crash into the ground, instead of into a building (the Whitehouse?)in a Pennsylvania field in 2001?

This the similar lesson for emergency communications. After Katrina, we understood that what was really needed was existing on-the-ground communications, owned, operated, and understood by regular people.

The experts aren’t everywhere. In fact, we can know with a pretty high probability that they won’t be where an emergency event is. Haven’t we spent time teaching everyday people how to do CPR and the Heimlich maneuver?

Homeland Security might think about a different approach.


Unknown said...

Nice thoughts. I'd add that crowdsourcing is fundamentally about creating open communities where sharing of information is encouraged rather than discouraged. This is vital because we need to actually increase public safety while foiling plans of would-be troublemakers. The current policy only promotes greater confusion and turmoil in crowds, which puts people in a disgruntled state of mind where they will be less effective at making important decisions.

I wrote this article a few years back to explore how crowds can help solve societal problems. More food for thought.

Climate Action and the Wisdom of Crowds


Joe Brewer
Director, Cognitive Policy Works

Russell Martin said...

Excellent ideas!

I recently read an article by Amanda Ripley in TIME magazine that elaborates on this topic:



Russell Martin
Portland, Oregon

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