At What Price is Safety? How Safe is Safe Enough?

Ian Mitroff
3 min readMar 13


I’m publishing this series of articles to share and discuss my ruminations on coping with a troubled and messy world. You can “follow” me to never miss an article.

The case of the horrific train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio raises the issue of whether Railroads are doing all they can to ensure Safety[i]. In brief, they are not.

For another, given the ravages of Covid, are Labs doing all they can to ensure that future pathogens are not released [ii].? The answer is not clear because it’s still debatable whether Covid 19 escaped from a Lab in Wuhan, China or resulted from the transmission of a virus from animals to humans.

And, there’s the persistent question of Regulating Technology, specifically AI[iii]. As the development of Tech proceeds at an ever and ever faster pace, can Regulations keep up with the potential Threats it poses? So far, the answer is “No!”.

While obviously different, the three cases are related in that they speak to the increasing Threats we face on every aspect of our existence. They thus add to the growing sense of insecurity that is characteristic of our daily lives.

Given that absolute Safety and Security aren’t possible, nonetheless, are we doing everything that we need to do to achieve them as much as humanly possible? Apparently not.

Thus, with regard to Railroads, the issue of Regulations, and thereby Safety, has largely been left to them. As a result, it’s akin to letting criminals write the Laws as to how they’ll pay for the commission of crimes. As Sherrod Brown, Democratic Senator from Ohio, summed it up, “Rail lobbyists have fought stronger safety standards for years, and Ohio communities like East Palestine and Springfield have paid the price”.

With regard to the Safety of Labs, the outstanding question is whether Covid 19 is the result of a Lab-Leak or viruses “in the wild”. The whole issue is clouded by the fact that the Chinese Government has largely stonewalled the release of information that would prove the case either way. Nonetheless, going forward, the challenge is whether Labs will take a tougher stance despite being unable to settle the case.

The problem with Regulating AI is that most Lawmakers don’t even know what AI is. Thus, before Regulation can proceed, there needs to be agreement on what its dangers are. And this requires a serious understanding of what AI is. True, but there’s enough to substantiate the fears that AI poses Threats that are harmful to our Mental Health.

At a minimum, all three cases involve whether the owners and the designers of potentially dangerous operations will not only exercise Caution in conducting themselves, but will cooperate openly with others so that we can get a more accurate account of potential dangers.

In other words, will they follow the Precautionary Principle or not? That is, will they halt the release of a product, innovation, or service until we have a better understanding of its potential dangers? If not, profits will continue to trump Safety with the resultant increase in Threats to our well-being.

[i] Peter Eavis, Mark Walker, and Niraj Chakshi, “Gaps in Rules Let Railroads Define Safety,” The New York Times, Tuesday, March 7, 2023, PP A1 and A16.

[ii] David Wallace-Wells, “This Debate Hasn’t Made Us Safer,” The New York Times, Sunday, March 5, 2023, PP SR 4 and 5.

[iii] Cecilia Kang and Adam Satariano, “A.I. Regulations Can Be Puzzle to Lawmakers,” The New York Times, Saturday, March 4, 2023, PP A1 and A14.

Ian I. Mitroff is credited as being one of the principal founders of the modern field of Crisis Management. He has a BS, MS, and a PhD in Engineering and the Philosophy of Social Systems Science from UC Berkeley. He Is Professor Emeritus from the Marshall School of Business and the Annenberg School of Communication at USC. Currently, he is a Senior Research Affiliate in the Center for Catastrophic Risk Management, UC Berkeley. He is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Academy of Management. He has published 41 books. His latest is: The Socially Responsible Organization: Lessons from Covid, Springer, New York, 2022.

Photo by Oscar Sutton on Unsplash



Ian Mitroff