Terror response math
Suspect bomber Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev has been captured after a historic manhunt in the Boston metro area. Part of what was historic about it was the response by law enforcement officials and politicians to the situation; they closed significant parts of the city. Numerous educational institutions were closed. Trains and buses were closed. Residents were told to lock themselves in their houses and not go out. A room full of experienced new correspondents were queried on the radio if they had ever experienced this type of response anywhere in the world; they all claimed it was novel.
So i am legitimately torn here. i dont want terrorists to succeed. This is a very dirty game, the use of violence on non-combatants to advance your political goals. So perhaps this extraordinary response of locking down hundreds of thousands of people will be sufficiently discouraging that some other terrorists will not strike. They may be dissuaded by knowing that their chances of disappearing into a crowd (for example) are greatly diminished because the feds are likely to use extraordinary tactics to catch them; including closing entire cities. Were this to have a chilling effect on terrorist attacks this might well be a good thing.
But i remember a calculation which was done by Car and Driver magazine after speed limits were dropped from 70 mph to 55 mph in response to the Arab Oil Embargo in 1973. Besides saving gas, one of the benefits that proponents of dropping the speed limit pointed to was the dramatically reduced number of auto fatalities that resulted from the reduced speed limit. Car and Driver magazine then pointed out that for every life saved there were an additional 102 person years spent driving, because it took longer to get many places. So we did save a life; and we spent a life and a half in the car driving to save it.
Wikipedia lists 26 terrorist acts in the US since the year 2000. That is 2 attacks per year. Let’s do some impossible math for a few moments. Let’s say that this extraordinary response to the Boston Marathon bombings discourages half the attacks on the US, so that this rate drops to 1 attack per year. Let’s say that 1/4 of the lives of the approximately 1 million people locked down for 11 hours was “lost”. [The locked down region included the cities of Watertown, Newton, Waltham, Belmont, Cambridge, Arlington and the Allston-Brighton neighborhoods of Boston.] That works out to something over 300 person years lost to stop an attack a year. Perhaps this is cheap.
What i fear is the state saying “we now have this new power to shut down the city’s infrastructure (transit, schools, health services) whenever we feel like the threat is great enough.” Who will make sure this power is not used inappropriately?