The Myth of Protection

Hidden truths about karate.
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The Myth of Protection

Postby HanshiClayton » Fri Feb 06, 2009 9:34 am

There's a problem with the word "protection" that we need to be aware of. This is an excerpt from my book on surviving a terrorist attack, Life After Terrorism: What You Need to Know to Survive in Today's World.

    It turns out that “protection” is a very misleading concept. We need to shed a few comfortable illusions before we proceed.

    In professional emergency management, “protection” is a bad word that can get you into a lot of trouble. People expect “protection” to transform some horrifying danger into comfortable security. That kind of protection is a myth like Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. Here’s the truth about protection:

      • Protection is always incomplete.

      • Protection is always temporary.

      • Protection depends on preparation.

    A bulletproof Kevlar vest provides a perfect example. According to the salesman, the vest “provides protection against bullets up to .44 magnum caliber!” For this reason, countless law officers wear these vests every day (as they certainly should) but consider these points:

      • The protection afforded by the vest is incomplete. The vest won’t stop rifle bullets or Teflon-coated bullets. President Reagan was shot with a .22 through the armhole of his vest. The bad guys can aim at your head or run you over with a car.

      • The protection is temporary. The vest protects your chest only while you are wearing it.

      • Protection requires preparation. When you hear the gunshot it is too late to stop and put on the vest.

    These three principles are true of all protective devices and strategies. When you acquire a device for “protection” there are always hidden pitfalls that can kill you. Here are some examples:

      • Gas masks “protect” you from poison gas. Nerve gas and mustard gas can attack through your exposed skin, so the mask doesn’t really help there. If you use a gas mask to enter an underground room full of carbon dioxide or sewer gas, or a smoke-filled room in a burning house, you will pass out and die. The mask doesn’t supply any oxygen. If there is no oxygen in the surrounding air, the mask doesn’t help. You’re dead.

      • HEPA masks “protect” you from dangerous viruses. The best particle-filtration masks, HEPA respirators, protect you from 99.97% of particles the size of smallpox viruses. Challenged by 100,000 airborne virus particles, the mask strains out 99,970 and lets 30 get into your lungs.

      • SCBA “protects” you from all gases and particles. SCBA is better than any gas or filter mask because it provides safe, bottled air for you to breathe. After about half an hour the air runs out and you suddenly have to take off the mask or suffocate. The mask leaks if you have a beard or wear glasses, or if the mask is the wrong size for you, or if you bump it against something. It is not supposed to fog up, but it often does. If you can’t take it off to wipe away the moisture, you can’t see. It makes it hard to drive.

      • Hazmat coveralls “protect” you from nerve gas. Protective garments erect a barrier between your skin and some danger, such as drops of nerve gas clinging to vegetation. On a sunny day, the temperature inside the protective suit rises to about 130 degrees F. The suit invites heat stroke. After a couple of hours, you must take it off or pass out. Taking off a poison-contaminated suit without expert assistance is suicidal.

      • Atropine “protects” soldiers from nerve gas. You have seen those atropine self-injection kits carried by soldiers. Atropine is an alkaloid poison derived from Deadly Nightshade (Atropa belladonna). In a gas emergency, frightened soldiers self-administer atropine injections as first aid. This makes them feel bad, so they panic and inject some more atropine. Now they feel worse, so they inject more atropine. During the Scud missile attacks on Tel Aviv in 1991 (which produced zero actual gas casualties), there were 230 people hospitalized due to self-inflicted atropine overdose. This was about 25% of the total casualties.

      • Vaccinia vaccine “protects” people from smallpox. Without the vaccine, the smallpox death rate is 30%. For vaccinated victims, the death rate is still 3%. One out of thirty vaccinated people die when exposed to smallpox. Immunity from the vaccination lasts for years, but not forever. The live virus in the vaccine can actually attack and kill people with AIDS and similar immunodepressed conditions.

    So what point am I trying to make? Whenever we say that some gadget “protects” you from a threat, there is always a list of lethal exceptions you didn’t know about. The gadget only encourages you to hang around in the danger zone when you should be moving away as fast as you can. Don’t put your faith in equipment.

    We will keep looking at this question as we evaluate our survival strategies; to see how much protection each strategy provides a family. We will expect that the protection afforded by each strategy will require significant preparation, will be temporary at best, and will be regrettably incomplete. We must confront this situation clearly. Survival allows no room for comforting illusions.
Bruce D. Clayton, Ph.D.
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