Rafe Sagarin is what you might call a “natural” security expert. In his new book, Learning From the Octopus, the University of Arizona marine ecologist and environmental policy analyst argues that we ought to look to nature—and its 3.5 billion years of adaptations for survival—for how to better protect ourselves from terrorist attacks, natural disasters and infectious disease. He spoke with Megan Gambino.
You are both an ecologist and a security expert. How did that happen?
I was a marine ecologist first. Back in 2002, I was working in Washington as a science adviser to Congresswoman Hilda Solis, now the Secretary of Labor. I was watching all the new security measures unfold in Washington less than a year after 9/11, with the eye of a naturalist. What I immediately saw was that these systems that were being put in place were not adaptable. They didn’t change or vary once they were installed. As a Hill staffer, I learned very quickly to put my hand over my keys in my pocket when I went through the metal detectors to avoid setting them off. If staffers who wanted to save 30 seconds could figure out how to avoid security measures, I thought, how quickly could terrorists figure out how to get around these measures? Likewise, security officers started screening cars by checking drivers’ IDs and then checking the trunks of the cars, but they did that exactly the same for every car pulling into the Capitol parking lots. How long would it take to figure out to put the bomb in the back seat and not the trunk? The security systems didn’t change at all like the systems I knew so well from the tide pools that I studied.
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