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Against Security: How We Go Wrong at Airports, Subways, and Other Sites of Ambiguous Danger

Against Security: How We Go Wrong at Airports, Subways, and Other Sites of Ambiguous Danger. By Harvey Molotch. Princeton University Press,; 278 pages; $35; also available as e-book.

In this book, Professor Harvey Molotch argues that the government is worrying about the wrong things, and wasting huge amounts of money in the process. With a focus on post 9-11 events, he suggests that while significantly more security measures are in place, most people do not feel safer, and it is even arguable whether we are indeed safer.

The book takes on a number of very different subjects, including public health via the availability of public restrooms, the 9-11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina, and more. When it comes to post 9-11 airport security, Molotch shows how the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s reactive security programs have done very little to enhance airport and aviation security.

The book provides a fascinating look at the New York subway system and how it dealt with the disaster of 9-11. It also provides a detailed overview of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. Not really a fluke, the disaster was expected and predicted. The book notes that numerous water projects, including the creation of the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet Canal, meant as a way to provide shipping with a shorter route to the Gulf of Mexico, created a scenario that exacerbated the flooding of New Orleans.

For the most part, Dr. Molotch’s recommendations for better design and safety are pragmatic. While many make sense, some may be far too radical for Congress or public safety officials. Nonetheless, this contrarian look at many of the security measures we have in place today gives the reader plenty to think about. Perhaps if planners took these ideas to heart, we would be safer and would have spent a lot less on security.

Reviewer: Ben Rothke, CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional), is an information security manager with Wyndham Worldwide Corp. The views expressed are his own.