Security measures at Manchester International Airport

Security and Safety: Two Similar but Different Concepts

When presented with notions of security and safety, many people often understand the two concepts to be interchangeable. However, in reality, while safety and security are directly proportional to each other, the two concepts are each individually significant.  In fact, many scholars argue that security and safety each provide a different approach to combating potential risk that could be important to understand for the future of the security sector. To elaborate, many scholars distinguish security from safety by viewing security as the overarching umbrella that ensures safety[1]. Thus, security acts as a safeguard to ensure that safety remains constant. However, many argue that because of this perspective, security is often regarded as a reactive rather than proactive measure[2].

Consequently, a safety-centered initiative looks more to preventative measures than a security-centered initiative. For example, fire departments and local police function as a security-centered approach, as most of its funding and training goes towards how to respond to fires and community threats. However, the United States Secret Service functions differently. It instead uses a proactive safety-centered approach that is constantly working to identify potential threats in a manner that reduces the risk of a threat. Hence, this proactively ensures safety by trying to guarantee that a threat will not arise in the first place, instead of functioning as a reaction to a threat. The worry among scholars is that violent threats or attacks tend to trigger a focus on security rather than safety. In fact, after September 11, the aviation industry significantly deviated funds away from aviation safety to allocate towards aviation security[3]. The September 11th attacks reframed the debate of safety and security. Upon examining U.S. policymaking and news coverage, it is clear that security failures on airplanes receive more widespread attention and outrage than safety feature failures on crashes. This shift in policymaking, public outrage, and decreased funding places security at the expense of safety.

The UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2518 in March 2020. This is the first resolution that consists of all-dimensional measures to ensure the safety and security of peacekeepers[4]. While some of the measures are more security-focused, such as strengthening uniformity of UN standards on training and performance, the resolution also incorporates proactive safety-focused measures. In fact, this resolution also urges the Secretary-General to improve the surveillance and monitoring to ensure situational awareness. Moreover, it also includes a measure to encourage partnerships among regional and subregional organizations, such as the African Union[5]. The measures defined in this resolution equate the importance of preventive measures and reactive measures  simultaneously. Therefore, the UN recognizes the importance of strong security capabilities working together with safety measures to decrease the likelihood of fatalities in future attacks.

In peacekeeping and military operations, it is important to enact proactive safety measures to prevent the likelihood of having to respond with force against a threat. It is estimated there has been at least 423 fatalities among peacekeepers and civilians as a result of targeted attacks[6]. However, the risk of fatality is not only limited to peacekeepers and civilians. Private Military and Security Companies (PMSCs) personnel in conflict areas are also equally at risk. In fact, the Fallujah incident, which resulted in the fatality of four PMSC personnel, was said to have resulted from a lack of safety precautions[7].

It is important to note that PMSCs have the capacity to provide both security-focused measures, such as supplying armed personnel to protect a base or facility, and safety-focused measures, such as intelligence gathering and surveillance. Thus, the problem lies in the way security and safety are framed and prioritized. Emphasis is often placed on security measures, as the use of on-the-ground personnel is viewed as an exhibition of force that can protect against potential risks. However, whereas security is can protect against unpredictable planned acts, safety measures can protect against unplanned predictable acts[8].
As such, security and safety are separate concepts that are directly proportional to each other, but together are inversely proportional to risk.[9] As a consequence, it is important for the security sector and PMSCs alike to reimagine the emphasis of security measures and highlight the use and further development of its preventive safety measures. Allotting greater resources to data gathering and satellite surveillance are safety-focused measures that will target risk and prevent the need for security protection.

[1] All sources were consulted between June 10th to June 15th, 2020.

Coursen, Spencer, “Safety vs. Security: Understanding the Difference May Soon Save Lives”, Medium, 22/01/2016:

[2] “Reading between the lines: Safety vs. Security”, Securitas India:—related-documents/article–safety-vs-security.pdf

[3] Cobb, Roger W., The Plane Truth: Airline Crashes, the Media, and Transportation Policy, Brookings Institution Press, 2003, p. 141

[4] “UNSC unanimously adopts resolution of safety, security of peacekeepers”, Business Standard, 31/3/2020:

[5] “Security Council Asks Host Countries to Prosecute Those Behind Attacks Against Peacekeepers, Unanimously Adopting Resolution 2518 (2020)”, United Nations, 31/03/2020:

[6] Ibid.

[7] Jose L. Gómez del Prado, “The Role of Private Military and Security Companies in Modern Warfare – Impacts on Human Rights”, Global Policy Forum, 11/8/2012:

[8]Albrechtsen, Eirik, “Security vs Safety”, Norwegian University of Science and Technology: Department of Industrial Economics and Technology Management, 2003, p. 7:

[9] Byres, Eric and Cusimano, John, “Safety and Security: Two Sides of the Same Coin”, Control Global, 25/03/2010: