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Guest: Stop the terrorists — implement this idea

BY WILL MATTESSICH - GUEST OPINION | FEBRUARY 08, 2010 7:30 AM

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The hungry media storm over President Obama’s handling of the “Christmas Day Bomber” is now starting to calm. Obama’s speech detailing the changes in security following the event added more fuel to the fire. In a rational world, the president could have spoken to the country and told us that no matter what we do, there is always the chance that someone will get through and that another attempted attack could occur. He could say that the skies are actually safer than they’ve ever been, explaining that, as statistician Nate Silver has calculated, the odds of having been on an aircraft experiencing a terrorist attack in the last decade are 1 in 10,408,947.

But this is not a rational world, so aviation security has been forced to respond to American insecurity. Does anyone actually think that making an elderly woman take her shoes off at a security checkpoint makes any of us safer? Or that the three-ounce liquid-container rule is an effective method in thwarting terrorists attempting to use chemical explosive? The answer, sadly, is that many people do think this. Because of the necessity of assuaging America’s disproportionate fears, the president mandated new, more stringent security measures for 14 “countries of interest,” which will now involve full-body pat-downs for passengers from each of these states. Some say this is too much, but I say it is not nearly enough. The only way to make Americans feel safe about air travel is to initiate a drastic overhaul in security screening, a proposal I’m calling: “PlanePals.”

PlanePals would ensure the safety and perceived safety of every air traveler. Here’s how it would work: All prospective air travelers from each “country of interest” would buy their tickets one year in advance. Upon purchase, the Transportation Security Administration would assign a trained operative, a “PlanePal,” who will go to the traveler’s home and live with her or him for one year preceding the flight. The PlanePal would go to work with the traveler, eat dinner at home with the traveler, and meet the traveler’s nuclear and extended family. This would ensure that no suspicious activity by the prospective traveler will go unnoticed.

Upon the day of the flight, the PlanePal would assess the situation and give the traveler an easy-to-understand color code. A “green” rating would mean the traveler is clear to fly. A “yellow” rating would mean the PlanePal is still somewhat suspicious about the traveler, and so the PlanePal would accompany the traveler for the duration of the flight (including visits to the bathroom; we must take no chances) until they safely reach their destination. A “red” rating would mean the traveler may not board the plane and that the PlanePal would live with the prospective traveler for one more year before he or she is allowed to fly. This arbitrary risk designation, similar to the Department of Homeland Security’s terror alert levels, would help the Transportation Security Administration easily handle any suspicious passengers.

In addition to the obvious security benefits, the PlanePals initiative would have huge economic benefits. Millions of jobs would be created by the need for operatives and support staff. The vast amounts of money spent to form and fund the new operation would help expand America’s GDP.

Also, flights from each of the countries of interest would fill up faster, because of the PlanePals traveling with their assigned passengers, generating more revenue for airlines. This proposal may single-handedly revitalize America’s struggling economy.

PlanePals would solve many problems and create many opportunities. Security checkpoints can only go so far, and the current American sentiment seems to be that one terrorist attack for every 11,569,297,667 miles flown is too many. A plan of this magnitude is the only way to ensure safety in air travel.

Will Mattessich is a UI student and the founder of Hawkeyes for Progress.


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