Sunday, January 11, 2015

Situational Awareness - What Charlie Hebdo Tells Us

It has become completely ridiculous how absorbed in technology we have become as a society.

Five years ago, people mocked the technologically-dependent youth of Japan and America as they stumbled through their day, distracted by their music players, phones, or tablets ito such an extent that the kids posed a significant danger to those around them.

Now, this is common across the world and across the generations. On the metro platforms this afternoon, I had to slalom past a dozen people that didn't even register my existence. It's everywhere. Yet, I live in Washington, DC. If there was to be a terrorist attack on the United States, the odds are better than even I would be at or near ground zero. And, the confined metro tunnels would be prime targets, as the 2005 bombings of the London Underground warn.

And still, we ignore our surroundings and remain oblivious to the possible dangers that exist right next to us. My fellow commuters couldn't tell a cop how many people were on the train much less what they looked like or who appeared suspicious.

This week's assault on the Charlie Hebdo offices is a sober reminder of the evils that exist in this world, doing little to calm the concerns of those of us that see more attacks as a function of 'when' and not 'if.' This is particularly disturbing when one considers the fact that Charlie Hebdo had already been attacked. In 2011, the office was fire-bombed and the website hacked. Concerns were raised high enough that the Stephane "Charb" Charbonnier, the editor of the magazine, hired personal security. One of the victims this week was Franck Brinsolaro, a 49-year old police officer assigned as his protective detail.

There had been previous attacks. There were new threats. A specilized security detail had been provided.

And, 12 people died.

The assailants escaped before a nation-wide manhunt brought them down. Even then, they took four more victims with them. Even a handful of miles away from the initial attacks, situational awareness was ignored.

These innocent people feared for their lives and recognized the risks they were taking. And, they died.

So, what of the innocent and completely unaware teacher so absorbed in her e-book that she misses her train stop? What of the college student texting in her car at the intersection? What of the tourists taking pictures in front of the Washington Monument?

We live in a world where terrorism has supplanted Total War as the tool of the aggressor. For no reason of your making, you can be targeted. The average citizen is more vulnerable to random violence than ever before, and we are so absorbed in our technology that we don't even know it.

Paris Rally Against Terrorism on January 11 (photo via Hollywood Reporter)

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