Subway Elevators and Movie-Plot Threats

Local residents are opposing adding an elevator to a subway station because terrorists might use it to detonate a bomb. No, really. There's no actual threat analysis, only fear:

"The idea that people can then ride in on the subway with a bomb or whatever and come straight up in an elevator is awful to me," said Claudia Ward, who lives in 15 Broad Street and was among a group of neighbors who denounced the plan at a recent meeting of the local community board. "It's too easy for someone to slip through. And I just don't want my family and my neighbors to be the collateral on that."


Local residents plan to continue to fight, said Ms. Gerstman, noting that her building's board decided against putting decorative planters at the building's entrance over fears that shards could injure people in the event of a blast.

"Knowing that, and then seeing the proposal for giant glass structures in front of my building ­- ding ding ding! -- what does a giant glass structure become in the event of an explosion?" she said.

In 2005, I coined the term "movie-plot threat" to denote a threat scenario that caused undue fear solely because of its specificity. Longtime readers of this blog will remember my annual Movie-Plot Threat Contests. I ended the contest in 2015 because I thought the meme had played itself out. Clearly there's more work to be done.

Posted on January 30, 2018 at 6:26 AM • 44 Comments


ThaumaTechnicianJanuary 30, 2018 6:49 AM

If only Americans put their efforts/worrying into things that are really dangerous...

Y'know, like lack of good public egalitarian education system, the surfeit of politicians who are beholden to corporate donors, and the absence of single-payer medicare.

jonJanuary 30, 2018 7:41 AM

Last I checked 50% of all deaths in the US were attributed to two things, and we continue to do little about them...
Heart disease, and cancer.

Next time someone gives you a movie plot threat, ask them for their risk factors for those two things... because we can predict with 50% accuracy that they will die from one of those two things...

fredJanuary 30, 2018 8:09 AM


The reality is, there are more yearly deaths in the US from erotic asphyxiation then there are from terrorist. But to spy on the entire population you need to scare them to justify it, and you can't scare people erotic asphyxiation.

Just say no to FISA

cclineJanuary 30, 2018 8:31 AM

Last I checked 50% of all deaths in the US were attributed to two things, and we continue to do little about them... Heart disease, and cancer.

Traffic's a killer too... for people in cars, people walking/biking, and everyone breathing the air (not to mention all the time people waste). Even a marginal subway improvement like this should save more lives than the hypothetical bomb ends (in statistical terms, e.g. micromorts).

Roger MooreJanuary 30, 2018 8:35 AM

This isn't really about security. It's about wanting to keep outsiders away from their exclusive neighborhood; security and terrorism are just the most convenient excuse.

WooJanuary 30, 2018 8:45 AM

Yeah, the meme has really played out.. we are ONLY acting on movie plot threats anymore. All the recent attacks have been so much simpler and so much different from any predictions and scenarios that were planned for.

echoJanuary 30, 2018 9:01 AM

@Roger Moore

In the UK my local main railway station (and others I have used) have lifts. Mostly these are helpful when travelling with heavy luggage or for disabled people. London is a well known magnet for bother and the underground is full of lifts.

A quick search for US law discovers this:

The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, State and local government, public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation, and telecommunications. It also applies to the United States Congress.

To be protected by the ADA, one must have a disability or have a relationship or association with an individual with a disability. An individual with a disability is defined by the ADA as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment. The ADA does not specifically name all of the impairments that are covered.

Name (required):January 30, 2018 9:14 AM

The article presents a better perspective on the fear. The residents are using terrorism as a cudgel to prevent street level construction from messing with their property values.

The "ding ding ding" resident needs therapy but everyone else is fine using the specter of terrorism to get what they want.

Petre PeterJanuary 30, 2018 9:17 AM

If we agree that riding the train is still the safest way to travel, then an elevator allowing more people to use the subway, would put less lives at risk not more.

Impossibly StupidJanuary 30, 2018 9:38 AM

I have to disagree with Bruce. These people do a deep threat analysis every day: they look in the mirror. I wonder how awful a person you knowingly have to be in order to constantly think that you are going to be an attack target. Maybe these people should stop being assholes and/or living next to assholes. Note: this advice can also apply at a national level.

Clive RobinsonJanuary 30, 2018 10:05 AM

This quote gets me,

“The idea that people can then ride in on the subway with a bomb or whatever and come straight up in an elevator is awful to me,” said Claudia Ward

She lives in an apartment that is worth several million dollars, yet she appears to be thicker than a half dozen oak toilet seats...

Look at it this way, if you were a terrorist in what is a "target rich" environment on the sub way, why on earth would you leave it for a very target poor environment on the very vauge hope you would convert glass into shrapnel and some how magically hit more targets?

Either she is deluding her self, or she thinks other people are to stupid to think it through.

Either way that makes Claudia Ward a not very bright bulb in a very long long corridor. So I'm not surprised others think she is a raving pearl clutching NIMBY anti disabled bigot...

However you also add to the list of her ignorance, that she apparently either does not know or does not care how little information it takes certain types of unpleasent people to track down your home location etc.

Perhaps before she grandstands again so publicly in such a way, some one should tell her to read up on what has happened to Brian Krebs, and the many many others who have been Swatted, doxed or had illegal substances sent to them through the mail, and anonymous tip offs going to the authorities etc.

Because the figures suggest you are more likely to get that sort of attention than be killed by a terrorist bomb.

As @Bruce has noted in the past people tend not to understand risk very well. Thus they fear the most unlikely but dramatic sounding risks rather than take measures against the ordinary everyday undramatic but very likely risks.

It does not help when the MSM "showcase" the dramatic over the undramatic and politicians jump on the band waggon for easy political points.

Ask yourself which is more grieving, the death of a loved one from a DUI or Terrorist? Or even an everyday "accident"[1]?

We need to be more conscious of not just the risks in our lives, but also the part our own actions have in them.

As others have noted the deaths through mainly illegaly obtaind fentanyl are rising rapidly in the US and some claim they are the main reason the US life expectancy is dropping. The number is put at 60,000 but if the figures for West Virginia are two and a half times that average death rate.

The statistics apparently show that the deaths are from illegaly made and purchased fentanyl. Bought for it's heroin like effects. Heroin is not a party drug, it's not for getting high on, it's taken mainly by those who want to forget life to "obliviate" it's not just a sign of addiction but usually severe or crippling mental illness such as chronic depression. Which raises the question of if an overdose is due to the quality of the product or the person taking it finally ending their pain. Perhaps people should ask why other people in the US are suffering this way, that is what is wrong with US society and has been for between five and ten years...

[1] I'm not a believer in "accidents" or "acts of god", just lack of prediction / foresight. For instance it is fairly well known that the risk of death from being hit by a car doing 20MPH is 5% which is around one nineth that at 30MPH at 45%, and that risk doubles up to 90% or eighteen times as likely to kill at 35MPH[2]. So why as a driver in an urban area would you ever think it was safe let alone wise to drive above 20 MPH? But thousands of drivers are doing it right now at more than 35MPH as you read this... Generaly they are not better, smarter or more thoughtfull or aware drivers, and you know that when the inevitable happens they will say "it's not my fault" or worse blaim the person they have hit.


Vesselin BontchevJanuary 30, 2018 10:24 AM

According to some statistics I've seen, in the USA one is more likely to be shot by a toddler than to die in a terrorist act. Ms. Ward ought to be terrified by armed toddlers...

Mike BarnoJanuary 30, 2018 12:58 PM

@ Clive Robinson

...risk of death from being hit by a car doing 20MPH is 5% which is around one nineth that at 30MPH at 45%, and that risk doubles up to 90% or eighteen times as likely to kill at 35MPH.

But your risk of death from being hit by an unmoving car is zero percent, which is [checking Intel math coprocessor] INFINITELY more likely to kill you than a 20MPH impact. So extending that logic ad absurdum, we should all drive at zero miles per hour.

If a given car is being driven by your enemy, or by someone in utter rage, you are far more likely to be hit by that car than by someone other than that. Whether you get hit has a far greater bearing on your survival than the speed at impact.

So try not to make enemies and try not to enrage people. Sometimes that's easier than going much slower than the prevailing speed of traffic, which enrages people.

Snarki, child of LokiJanuary 30, 2018 1:18 PM

Y'know, the Los Vegas mass shooter used an elevator to get his guns up to his room. If he had to cart them up the stairs, it would have slowed him down considerably.

AND, if he had to shimmy up a rope we'd be even safe, ever think of that?1??

WaelJanuary 30, 2018 1:21 PM

The idea that people can then ride in on the subway with a bomb or whatever and come straight up in an elevator is awful to me


  • When your time comes, it comes
  • There isn't a death 'idea' that's not awful
  • Perhaps an instant death in an elevator is less painful than a bout with cancer
  • When a plane explodes, passengers die within seconds, before they even realize what happened. It's not like they'll be screaming on the way down
  • Don't live in fear, it's not like we'll live forever.

Then again, is a bomb on an escalator a more 'attractive' idea? How about dying in a car fire? Even this is not guaranteed to be painless and pleasant:

When I die, I want to die like my grandfather who died peacefully in his sleep. Not screaming like all the passengers in his car. -- Will Rogers

'Peacefully in his sleep' is our perception. Enough about this topic, unless you want to hear more ;) It has to do with time-space and laws of physics that may cease to exist at the 'moment' of crossing the Security Boundary between life and death. Fascinating topic...

Dan HJanuary 30, 2018 1:34 PM

Approximately 200,000 Americans have died due to drunk drivers since 2001, but let's worry about the far less worrisome threat that generates headlines.

Dan HJanuary 30, 2018 1:41 PM

Drunk driving statistics were not started until 1980, and in that year there was over 26,000 deaths due to inebriated drivers.

If you extrapolate those numbers to 1965-1973, the years that US combat forces were in Vietnam, then you'd have over 200,000 Americans killed by drunk drivers.

So, the public was demanding the US disengage from combat in Vietnam because they were upset that 58,000 soldiers had died, but they were ambivalent that 4 times that many died from drunk drivers.

Go figure.

Sean ConneryJanuary 30, 2018 2:36 PM

@Roger Moore

Bingo. I understand a person's desire to want to be let alone. I understand a person's desire to be part of a crowd. What I have never understood is people who want to erect large buildings in the middle of a crowd and then be alone there. It is to me the most bizarre thing in the world. If one wants to keep strangers out, the sensible thing to do is go where the strangers are not rather than building a skyscraper in the middle of strangers and then complaining about all the nasty people.

Clive RobinsonJanuary 30, 2018 3:27 PM

@ Dan H,

Go figure

Each individual death is a loss for their friends and loved ones, what ever the cause.

People tend to think even of motor cars driven by drunks as individual tragadies, that are an unfortunate part of life.

A war no mater how just is seen as a single tragedy with many events that are not individual tragadies but part of the war.

If we were to treat motor vehicle collisions and deaths collectively how long do you think it would be before we in effect treated those who make the vehicles or the booze and treat them as the enemy?

We don't and we probably won't as that would be like declaring war on our selves and our way of lives, in effect our own existance.

History already tells us what will happen if we "ban booze" and I can not see the US going back to horse and carts, not that they were any safer than modern vehicles.

To get a collective response we need an enemy that is not us, not close to us and not of sympathy to us. Like racism or any other "ism" we fight wars against that we can see is different, that most importantly is not us. We are in effect regressing to our tribal selves.

It's why the big lie of the American Dream works so well. It makes you think that you could be part of the 1% of the 1% of the 1%. The reality is they have already pulled up the draw bridge on that little party and will only let those "of their type in" usually by their dead fathers shoes. Thus unless you are in one of the familes, by and large being rich or influential in the US is "An Invitation only gig". But as long as you can convince yourself otherwise you will do what ever they tell you to in the hopes of getting an invetation that will be forever in the post...

Thus the real trick to power and influance is to form a closed party of your own around a new disruptive technology, such as has happened in Silicon Valley. But to hang onto it you have to be able to buy sufficient votes, to keep the older money off of your lawn.

Terrorist DalekJanuary 30, 2018 3:37 PM

Your pathetic 1960s anti-terrorist defenses will not stop the Daleks! We have learned to climb stairs!

jonesJanuary 30, 2018 4:06 PM

For the year 2016, as many americans died EACH MONTH in cars as died on 911.

Driving, subsidizing highways, and marginalizing intercity mass transit is just the cost of doing business in America, but when things MIGHT blow up because we export terror around the globe, this is unacceptable...

Clive RobinsonJanuary 30, 2018 5:00 PM

@ Mike Barno,

But your risk of death from being hit by an unmoving car is zero percent

Err no it's not.

Remember it's the combined speed. If you cycle, run or even walk into a stationary car there is some small risk you will be seriously injured and or die.

Somebody I know, broke their hip steping off of a curb, when in hospital he nearly died because his heart stopped during the operation. From all acounts he only just survived.

So yes there is risk even in a non moving vehicle.

PseudonymJanuary 30, 2018 6:25 PM

"I ended the contest in 2015 because I thought the meme had played itself out."

That's a shame, because I have a really good one that only became feasible after 2015...

gJanuary 30, 2018 11:59 PM

We'll be happy to remove the subway's elevators after they remove the elevators from their own building.

tyrJanuary 31, 2018 1:23 AM

You can probably shorten your life quite
a bit by worrying about things you have no
control over.


That falls into the black swan understanding
area. Every time you drive faster and survive
you start building a gaussian curve from the
occurrence. The accident is a black swan and
is not predictable by any gaussian curve.
Trying to map everything mathematically only
works if your assumptions and your math is
right. Otherwise you might as well use the
models of economists or astrologers as a
guide to behavior.

I see the snoopers charter has taken a hit
in court, IMHO a good thing long overdue.

Wesley ParishJanuary 31, 2018 3:20 AM


We all know where the anti=pterorism security business in the US gets its inspiration from, don't we?

It's available on Youtube, and it's called Plan 9 From Outer Space.

Clive RobinsonJanuary 31, 2018 5:22 AM

@ tyr,

I see the snoopers charter has taken a hit in court, IMHO a good thing long overdue.

Unfortunatly the Judges only made a rulling on part of it. The other part they have left to the European Court where it is slowly making it's way towards actually being heard.

Whilst that is currently the legal process, it's a bad political choice due to Brexit.

The current PM is not going to like what the court has made judgment on as it makes her and her backers look somewhat stupid. It's a fair bet the European Court will likewise find against her legislation, further giving her opponents more ammunition to use against her.

Her best policy is thus to play the case going towards the European Court out into the long grass proceduraly. But with the further advantage that Brexit gives not just a cut off point but political ammunition not just against any ruling the European Court might evevntually make, thus weakening and sidesteping it, but also to come back with even more draconian legislation "post Brexit".

She knows she is effectively usless and oppinion polls have been better to her than the electorate have. She has had to buy in support from people who are clearly in it for what they can get, which is why this "Bridge to Scotland" has come up.

The main opposition leader is slowly gaining strength and credability despite what the rightwing of their party are trying to do to him (falling Empires seldom go quietly or gracefully).

Thus those who put the current UK PM upto the stupid "snoopers charter" back when she was hiding in the Home Office, will not want to give up one fraction of the power the snoopers charter has given them, or the funding that effectively came with it. They see the current opposition as "the enemy" as they have done in the past, and they want another Thatcher or Blair not Wilson. Thus you can expect dirty tricks to start again as is the IC and LEO MO on previous occasions. But also so do the likes of foreign investors. In the past when certain electronics and other high tech companies were more powerfull than they currently are, they were caught in effect buying intel from the Met Police on protestors to get unjustified actions against them in the court system. The Met Police in certain areas are a significant and very real danger to the social health of the UK based on how their current head got thr job, I would say that such behaviour in future is more likely than not.

Thus politically it's an interesting time in the UK. Especially when it comes to peoples rights to protection from the state, it's agents, and their supporting beneficiaries. What should be clear to anyone who can read is that currently we have the worst political leaders we have seen in several generations and at best the captain is rearranging her deck chairs on Titanic UK.

Clive RobinsonJanuary 31, 2018 6:56 AM

@ tyr,

That falls into the black swan understanding area. Every time you drive faster and survive you start building a gaussian curve from the occurrence.

But nature does not follow any curve on a graph, if it did there would be no entropy everything would be preordained... Life would be at best dull.

All those curves show is an "averaged trend over an observed period". The fact that something has not happened in your observational time frame, does not mean it can not happen now nor that it did not happen in the past or could not happen in the future. We only have to look at the surface of the Moon to realise that. Some even say "We have been lucky so far" and in a way they are right, because based on geological records we are getting close to or overdue for certain types of event, based on somebodies averaged curve.

We end up with average trends because of real world noise. Take actuarial data, it can not tell you when your house will catch fire, but it can give you a good approximation as to how many houses will catch fire in the next year in a group of a million homes. We know the number forcast for the next time period is more likely than not inaccurate. But that it is "close enough" to plan on ordinarily... And there is the "squirrel" word how do we know what is and is not ordinary, that is we base future predictions on past data and try to find the trend. The problem the longer the time period of a trend the less easy it is to see if at all. Thus we use "running averages" to try to discount long term trends.

Part of what I do is predict orbits of objects. According to the math I should be able to tell you where to aim your antenna tommorow, next week, next month, next year or some longer period into the future.

The reality is I can't either short term or longterm for certain orbits, because of solar weather amongst other things. The thing is I can give you medium term predictions you can use with more accuracy...

Those working with satellites know that there is a lot of junk in space and that each time two objects hit the problem gets worse a lot worse it's why it's called a cascade event. You have no idea what the result of any impact is, that is the resulting number size and direction of the fragments, what you do know is that even a fleck of paint smaller than a finger nail can have one heck of a lot of energy when it hits something, and you have no real idea where those flecks are and only a rough idea of in which direction they are travelling, and you can not see them comming.

From your point of view they are all "black swan" events, however if you have 50-100million invested in a bird over a twenty year operational life, you realy do want to think about them and how to mitigate their effects...

As I've indicated I don't believe in "acts of god" or even accidents, just lack of foresight[1]. However it does not mean I apportion blaim to people when they have insufficient foresight humans like measuring instruments have limitations.

That said there is a wonderful lawyer type squirrely expression "Avoidable accident" they use it to imply blaim due to negligence. The thing is we are all negligent when it comes to those second guessing with hindsight.

[1] Foresight is an interesting word, and most don't see it correctly... The Cambridge English Dictionary gives it as,

    the ability to judge correctly what is going to happen in the future and plan your actions based on this knowledge

Other Dictionares add all sorts of stuff you might call "second sight" which is what many think is only what the word means... Which is why I normally amplify on it, even when the word correctly used suffices.

Mike BarnoJanuary 31, 2018 7:12 AM

@ Clive Robinson :

...the combined speed. If you cycle, run or even walk into a stationary car...

Correct, or more precisely, the net speed of the two vectors. Traffic engineers will tell you that most dry-weather accidents are caused by a high closing rate, not by high speed itself. So driving 20MPH is safer only if the surrounding vehicles are also traveling at a similar speed. The "prevailing speed" is usually safest in terms of not having an accident at all.

What high speed influences is the level of damage, as you referred to originally. The laws of physics mean that a fast-moving vehicle has a lot of kinetic energy to transfer at impact. Two fast cars might barely bump, just enough to cause a spin, but the spinning car will hit a guardrail much harder than it was nudged by the other car.

Ask the ghost of Dale Earnhardt Sr.

(And of course I blew the joke by writing "infinitely more likely to kill you", when I meant "less". But I wrote "being hit by an unmoving car", not "collision involving an unmoving car". Thus: not incorrect.)

keinerJanuary 31, 2018 9:34 AM


For you I watched this whole utube vid, 4:27 min wasted lifetime!

There is no Netzbau in it!

When it comes to "Netzbau" nowadays, it can only mean Northstream 2. Strongly favoured by Gas-Gerd.

Yes, we in Germany have first-hand experience with state leaders bought by Russia...

WaelJanuary 31, 2018 10:14 AM


For you I watched this whole utube vid, 4:27 min wasted lifetime!

I owe you. Apologies for wasting your time.

There is no Netzbau in it!

I know that! I am changing the words so they say something related to what we discuss here! ‘Netzbau’ is supposed to rhyme with ‘Moskau’!!!

Yes, we in Germany have first-hand experience with state leaders bought by Russia...

Yea! Wait until Wladimir Klitschko pulls an “Arnold Schwarzenegger” and runs for the chancellor. His brother is already in politics!

Kliiiiitschko, Kliiiiitschko, Kliiiiitschko...

keinerJanuary 31, 2018 10:28 AM


These guys were very popular in Germany while boxing. Making a lot of money with adds for Kinder Milchschnitte (Ferrero Nutella / Kinder mafia, really, really rich with sh*tty food). Better than Bernd Höcke...

jcFebruary 1, 2018 8:49 PM

"Terrorism" is a cover-up for other things people are uncomfortable talking about.

These fine "gentlemen" fear being caught with a "lady" in the elevator and thereby losing their reputation and standing in that particular local "community."

Wendy M. GrossmanFebruary 2, 2018 9:55 AM

Maybe this woman doesn't realize London's underground and train system is full of elevators because they're called *lifts* here. Very helpful for getting bicycles to and from platforms, too.


BA BaracusFebruary 3, 2018 12:09 AM

Some of you will be familiar with investor author podcaster Tim Ferriss.
He recently moved from San Francisco to Texas. As explained in a Redditt AMA, he hangs out with Special Operations folk who do threat analysis. They told him Golden Gate bridge and Silicon Valley are primary targets. He didn't wish to live 'on a target'

Wesley ParishFebruary 5, 2018 3:33 AM

I presume this little piece of mine, written after the Las Vegas shootings, wouldn't get any placings in a future Security Theatre Movie Plot?

Marhaen Sukarno In Las Vegas
ht tps://

I think the key word in all the mess in the story, is "democratization".

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