Wednesday, September 11, 2002

previous entry | main | next entry | TrackBack (0)


WHAT CAN FLORIDA TEACH US ABOUT HOMELAND SECURITY? After the 2000 ballot controversey in Florida, the state passed a comprehensive election reform that, at the time, prompted huzzahs from the chattering classes. Whoops.

What's relevant about this for the war on terrorism is that the very reforms that were supposed to prevent mishaps were responsible for the current fiasco. According to the Washington Post, "Ballots were chewed up in the new touchscreen voting system" and "In Union County, officials counted every ballot by hand after the optical-scan system showed that every vote cast was for a Republican candidate."

In complex organizations, reforms designed to prevent catastrophic failures can often interact in unanticipated ways to increase the liklelihood of such failures. Scott Sagan has shown how this sort of phenomenon led to some harrowing near-accidents involving the U.S. nuclear arsenal. There has been a lot of criticism about how proposed homeland security reforms could infringe civil liberties or enhance the power of incompetent bureaucracies. No one, however, has raised the disturbing prospect that the proposed reforms could actually increase our vulnerability to attack. The natural penchant for centralization control during a crisis will magnify any error made by that central authority.

posted by Dan on 09.11.02 at 11:28 AM