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"There's no 'comedy' in this costly security mistake"
Sunday, December 10, 2006
There's no 'comedy' in this costly mistake
The trickle down effect of airport security
By Don Salyards
The Winona (MN) Daily News
A Winona Daily News article of Nov. 29 reported Anne Jefferson's mistake of
leaving a science project in a rental car at the Minneapolis airport. The
Bloomington police bomb squad blew up the forgotten device, complete with
pipes and blinking lights. This caused a shutdown of a parking garage and
disrupted thousands of travelers at Minneapolis-St. Paul International
In the article, Jefferson described the destruction of her science project
as "pretty devastating. It's not the sort of thing a scientist wants to
hear." She also indicated that her only regret was that someone didn't
contact her before she left the airport, implying that if airport security
had acted more responsively the whole mess could have been avoided.
Before proceeding, let me indicate that I have known Ms. Jefferson and her
parents for years. She is an award-winning scientist and the prodigy of two
wonderfully intelligent parents. There is no question that this was an
honest mistake, and it is unfortunate that the device was destroyed.
However, the fact remains that the entire incident was set in motion because
she inexplicably forgot what she deemed to be an important scientific device
in the trunk of the rental car.
What bothered me about the Daily News article was that it didn't make any
mention of the tremendous economic and personal costs associated with
Jefferson's oversight. In addition to the expense of calling in the bomb
squad and providing additional security, literally hundreds of people had to
change their travel plans.
This was no minor inconvenience; it was the disruption of operations at a
major international airport. I venture to say that the economic costs of
this mistake, born by taxpayers and travelers, could easily have run into
millions of dollars. For example, did business people from Minneapolis miss
their international flights because they had to park farther from the
terminal? If so, did a firm from another country receive the contract,
costing workers in Minnesota valuable jobs and income? What about the mom
who could not get her car from the parking ramp and had to hurriedly arrange
for additional baby-sitting because she could not get back to her home on
time? What about the person who could not get to the next sales meeting
because she could not get her car? Did she lose out on a potential sale?
This was an honest mistake made by an incredibly competent (but briefly
absent-minded) young scientist. However, in this new era of super-sensitive
airport security measures, it was a very costly mistake. I am hopeful that
the research Jefferson does will generate benefits to society that will
offset some of the societal costs of that mistake. One thing is for sure:
There was nothing "comedic" about this "Tragicomedy."
Don Salyards is an economist and entrepreneur. He has founded several
companies in the Winona area and has been a Professor of Economics at Winona
State University since 1975. Don and his wife, Deb, own and operate the
Carriage House Bed and Breakfast in Winona. The couple have a son, Tad, and
a daughter, Tara, who both reside in the Twin Cities.
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