Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Don't let the terrorists win

Some people may have heard that there was a bomb found in Times Square on Saturday evening. Terrorism usually scares people. That's what it's meant to do. Even Saturday night was probably not so much about the bomb as it was about the threat of the bomb. Because it almost happened, the city will spend millions of dollars on new security protocol and this and that will, while perhaps not actually doing any good, will at least make us feel safer. There has been one terrorist attack carried out in the past 10 years. I would say that's a pretty good record. Zero in the past five years (assuming this foiled one doesn't count). The thing is, no one can know whether that number is low because NYC isn't a target, or because the security system we already have works pretty well. Since we can't know, we will throw money at it to make people think that someone knows.

I digress. How the City of New York spends its money is not really my business until I stop being lazy and change my voter registration status from its current headquarters at 1051 Rancho Vista Lane. I am much more worried about the way that others fear death-by-terrorism. I know that my maternal grandmother is rolling over in her grave right now; she would have been on the phone with me the first thing Sunday morning when she turned on the news, worried about my vulnerability to terrorism. The first thing I probably would have said to her would be that there's no need to worry about my safety if we are talking about things that go on in Times Square. I avoid the area like the plague. I don't even like to switch trains at 42nd St. But beyond that, though living in New York probably ups my risk for being near a car bomb as opposed to Ventura, that's like saying by putting two of my toes in the tide as it comes in I upped my risk of being attacked by a shark as opposed to standing on the dry sand.


You see, the number of mortalities in New York City every year is somewhere around 50,000 and 60,000 every year. That's 550,000 give or take a few thousand in the last decade. The number of people that have died as a result of terrorism in the city: 2,746 (according to the City of New York). All of those deaths were related to the World Trade Center disaster. While I'm not trying to discredit the lives of those people who did die in that terrorist attack, my point is that they were a mere 0.5% of the deaths this decade. And that's taking it way back just to be able to have a straw to grasp. The number of terrorism-related deaths in 2008 (the latest numbers available): 0. The number of terrorism-related deaths in the past 5 years: 0.

By contrast, almost half of the deaths reported in 2008 were caused by heart disease (24,000 out of 54,000).  Or even, I could be one of the 388 people who died in 2008 as a result of "accident falls." Or the 390 who died of "injury from firearms" (not including homicide or suicide). I don't really go around playing with firearms. But it's entirely possible that I could have an accident fall. I'm not exactly the most stable person to grow a pair of legs. I occasionally trip over cracks in the sidewalk. Way more occasionally than I see other people trip now that I think about it...

On a slightly more serious note, there are 320 people who died in 2008 from motor vehicle accidents. Since I don't see it anywhere else, I can only assume that this means bike accidents as well as car accidents (and many probably include both unfortunately). That's a valid concern perhaps, though I still see the puny 320 out of 54,000 (out of the 8.3 people still alive here in the city) as a better chance to take than the 24,000 that die of heart disease. Biking is a short-term risk perhaps, but a long-term investment in my health.

Now, if I was really going to take a good, educated look at this data, I would need to zone in on my age group. The leading cause of death for residents of NYC between the ages of 15-24 is homicide (164 in 2008), and then accidents (84). But then you break that down into sex, and you realize that of that 164 homicide number, only 12 of those were female. The leading cause of death for 15-24 females is cancer, sitting at a hefty 32 people in 2008. And the thing about cancer is that, well, who says they are worried about their ___ who lives in NYC because she might die of cancer?

*Disclaimer: I am not a statistician. Nor am I a sociologist. I realize that there are a lot of ways of interpreting data, and the risk assessment process for vulnerability to terrorism may be slightly more complicated than "it hasn't happened in the last 5 years so the risk is 0..." My source for these numbers is here. And the larger NYC vital statistics resource website is here. Notice how the website splits space between mortality statistics and most popular baby names. How cutesy.

Also, how cool is this?? I'm just glad that I didn't live in New York between 1830 and 1930...

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