Canadian Underwriter

Keeping Sense

November 1, 2001   by Sean van Zyl, Editor

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In the aftermath of September 11 a great deal of attention turned to public security, specifically airport and airliner boarding procedures. It has become apparent that airport security measures among many of the major U.S. airports had been hopelessly inadequate prior to the attacks. It is therefore commendable that swift action was taken by not only U.S. government agencies, airport authorities and airliners, but by countries worldwide, including Canada.

What has become apparent, however, is that reaction to the terrorist attacks, and the potential for further such actions, has created an imbalance between “practical” and “reactionary” measures – at least this is my view. There is no question that the enormous scope of the tragedy that occurred on September 11 has left the world dumbfounded. However, loss of life and property as a result of terrorism is not a new occurrence, at least in many parts of the world including the U.K. and mainland Europe.

The disease of terrorism has plagued society for decades, perhaps one could argue for centuries, with often the distinction between “terrorism” and “guerrilla warfare” barely discernable. The fact that members of the terrorist group presumed responsible for September 11 were once regarded as “friends” of the U.S., and trained by American intelligence in the art of guerrilla warfare, highlights the peculiar problem of dealing with terrorism, and the highly volatile ramifications of either sponsoring or taking actions against such groups. The “cold war”, which provided the environment for terrorist groups on either “side” to flourish is now over, leaving first world countries with an embarrassing legacy which they now have to “tidy up”. Several European countries, who have been at the forefront of terrorism attacks, have for years actively pursued terrorist attackers and taken security measures to counter potential strikes. As importantly, the civilian population among those countries have adapted to deal with the possibility of terrorist attacks, and quiet simply, life goes on. Perhaps this is a sad reflection on society, but it is also realistic.

Until September 11 of this year the U.S. and Canada had escaped the horror of international terrorism and impact of terror on society. It is therefore perhaps understandable that reactions in some cases have been extreme, to the extent of even fulfilling the intent of the terrorists in paralyzing society and the economy with fear. I hold the mainstream media much at fault in this regard in the airing and printing of highly emotional and subjective reports, many of which have proven to be inaccurate. As a journalist, I have always fully supported “freedom of the press”, but having watched much of the coverage of the September 11 events and subsequent developments on CNN, I have to say that my support for such free expression has considerably waned. Perhaps government “gag orders” on those within the media who seem incapable of acting in a responsible manner during a period of crisis may be in order.

Needless to say, regardless of the role played by the media in promoting fear, society within Canada and the U.S. will ultimately have to deal with a more practical approach to the threat of terrorism. Causing two-hour plus delays at airport check-in counters to confiscate nail files and plastic sewing scissors, and then handing out two-inch blade steel knives with onboard meals is crazy. Based on a personal domestic flight experience, post-September 11, following the return journey to Pearson Airport, the unloading of the baggage took an unusually “above the normally usual” delay. Following which, there was an extended line of people from numerous flights trying to get out of the baggage area, all being checked one-by-one by two security attendants for identification to ensure that the baggage was indeed their baggage. Personally, I’m still having a problem finding logic to why someone would want to steal a potentially “threatening piece of baggage” from the airport.

Rash reactions to the terrorist attacks have not been limited to the general populous and airport authorities, but include the insurance industry. Most reinsurers have indicated that they will not renew covers without terrorism exclusion clauses. Specifically, AXA recently notified FIFA, the world soccer body, that it will be canceling cover of the 2002 World Cup event with just a month’s notice. I can understand the concern of insurers/reinsurers for their potential exposure to terrorism, but by simply excluding and not “pricing” this particular risk goes completely against the spirit of the insurance industry – and then we wonder why, and in the process, bemoan the fact that insureds withdraw premiums from the traditional market.

With airliners and the tourism industries citing “half capacity” numbers following the September 11 terror attacks, it is very clear that the terrorists may be indeed winning in their war of fear in disrupting society and commerce. It is an unfortunate and sad fact that North Americans, like their European cousins, will have to overcome the fear of terrorism by not only taking effective and appropriate precautions, but by not succumbing to the disruption intended.

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