Published on October 3rd, 2017 | by Sean Stahl


Safety during international travel

Terrorism worldwide has been escalating in the last five years. Suicide bombers are killing people in the Middle East, North Africa, Asia and Europe. Tensions everywhere are increasing.

Residents of Athens, Brussels, Copenhagen, Hamburg, London, Manchester, Nice, Paris, Prague and Stockholm have all suffered violent attacks. In the years between 2010 and 2014, there were an estimated 37 terrorist-related fatalities in Europe. In 2015, 176 people were killed in terrorist attacks in France, (161), Denmark (2), Germany (5), Greece (1), Sweden (4) and the UK (1). In 2016, terrorists killed 142 European citizens. These last two years indicate what many consider to be an alarming general rising trend. As of June of this year, 39 Europeans died in 11 terrorist attacks.

The Samohi orchestra and choirs both travel internationally once a year. Orchestra has performed not only in here in Washington DC, New York and San Francisco, but also overseas in Prague, Vienna, Baden-Baden, Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Guangzhou, some of which have been targets of recent terrorist attacks.

That being said, what are the chances of a member of the touring orchestra being killed by a terrorist? Well, you could say…it’s complicated. Since countries like Belgium, France, Germany and the UK have had the most attacks, the risk is higher there. However, consider the following statistics regarding the chance of one person dying out of 1000 in 2013:

Traffic accidents 5.9

Heatwave 2.3

Sporting accidents 1.37

Pedestrian deaths 1.12

Consumer product deaths 1.06

Homicide 0.85

Lightning 0.005

Terrorism 0.0018 (averaged between 2010 – 2014)

When averaged for population growth, the death rate by terrorism in 2015 was 0.034. In 2016 it was 0.027. But Europeans were 218 times more likely to be killed in a traffic accident than be killed by a terrorist. That same European was 32 times more likely to die of homicide than be killed by a terrorist. Notably, going back to 2010-2014, the low odds were even more impressive: European residents were 4,377 times more likely to die in car accidents, and 472 times more likely to die by homicide.

I would be amiss if I did not compare the risk of death by terrorist to that of death by lightning strike. During 2010-2014 Europeans were almost three times as likely to be killed by lightning than by terrorism.

By 2016 it is estimated 26 Europeans died from lightning strikes. Assuming this is true, Europeans were 5.4 times more likely to be killed by terrorism than lightning in 2016. So terrorism is trending as a more likely cause of death than lightning, but is still well below the chance of dying from something bought from Amazon.

Samo orchestra leadership feel it is worth the risk to travel internationally, because students get to see different countries and learn about local culture and where different styles of music come from. They are planning to visit Buenos Aires, Rosario and Montevideo.

Joni Swenson, one of orchestra’s directors, says that students are not afraid of traveling, but they understand the concerns about the threat of terrorism. Also, parents greatly support international travel, because it is a way for the students to really immerse themselves in the culture where the music they are studying originated.

Bearing in mind the statistics above, this is a reasonable approach to international travel for high school groups, and for us all.

The purpose of the terrorist is not to ‘win’ by killing the most people, but rather to frighten as many people as possible and disrupt daily lives — to make people too afraid to leave their houses to meet friends, to gather for worship or to travel to other continents to play the tuba.

Cities are spending billions of dollars on construction, regulation, security, screening, etc. to prevent terrorist activity from impacting how we live.

Is there still some risk? Yes. But the response should be proportionate. Terrorists are not having a statistically significant impact on our safety. International travel is safe, and unless a trip is scheduled very close to a dangerous event, it should not be canceled or postponed.  

If we let the terrorists change how we conduct our lives, they have won.

In 2016, the orchestra was scheduled to leave for Brussels the day after the bombing. Parents and students still wanted to travel as planned, however, school administration determined the wiser choice was to cancel the trip. They had purchased cancellation insurance that covered terrorist events, and it made sense to cancel a trip so close to a significant bombing in the very city they were travelling to.

A great example of rushing back in too soon happened on “9/11”, in 2001. When an airplane hit one of the twin towers in New York, people were told it was safe to go back into the other tower. We all know what happened then. You never know if there will be another attack near the location of the first, and it’s best to be cautious in the immediate aftermath of a terrorist event.

But, with enough time, after everything settles down and we’ve confirmed the risk of additional impact is minimal, we shouldn’t give the terrorists the power of controlling our travel.

Students were polled on whether they thought international travel is safe.

Jonathan Herridar, Band, Junior: “Yes, as long as you follow the director’s instructions you’ll be fine.”

Buddy Mlench, Orchestra, Senior: “It depends on where you travel. You might get kidnapped if you travel to places like the Philippines.”

Sasha, Orchestra, Sophomore: “Yes, it’s mostly safe. But it depends on where you go and where you are. International travel is also a great way to learn where certain music comes from.”

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