What are the Odds?


Today with the excellent Kate Green I was working with some young people in Birmingham planning a walking adventure in the City Centre on Tuesday. All was going well and as planned we moved on to the Risk Assessment section in which we ask the students to think through what the risks of the trip may be, if these are acceptable and how we mitigate against them. The first risk they thought of was ‘being blown up’. It may have been that they were playing a deadpan game of winding us up. I hope they were. If they were they were playing it very straight and consistent. We played along, to an extent; after all it is a risk.

“Okay do you think that risk, is High, Medium or Low?”
Pause for thought / or for effect – “Medium” I really hope they were winding us up. The risk is crazily low yet this is how the Terror thing works isn’t it, it is terror for a few but for many it is a worry, a concern, a anxiety, a ‘medium risk’.

Shortly after last week’s attack in Paris I heard an interview with someone who was eating in a restaurant near the one that had been attacked. In the kind of slack journalism that I can’t stand this person was asked “Don’t you feel incredibly lucky?” Answer “Yes”. They may have felt lucky but I think that this natural response is mathematically illogical. How many people were there in Paris that night? How many restaurants are there in Paris? How many people had already eaten in that one restaurant already that night and left? How many had booked but had yet to arrive? Surely the truth in pure statistical terms is that you are not ‘lucky’ not to be shot at or be near a bomb when it blows up, you are just most incredibly unlucky if you are.

Maybe Britain is a prime target, maybe Birmingham as one of Britain’s biggest cities is also a prime target, maybe New Street Station as a busy, iconic, transport hub is a prime target within the city but I can virtually guarantee that we will not be shot at or blown up by terrorists on Tuesday. What a terrible situation to be in where I can only say ‘virtually’ and a fifteen year old can even think of saying ‘medium risk’.

I more realistic scenario for us to plan for is how we get the young people back to school if a security alert closes the station down and the city’s taxis get swamped. Even this seems like a low risk with mild consequences mitigated by walking.

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