London Olympics 2012: The odds of dying in a terrorist attack

Published: August 8, 2012

You are 14 times more likely to win a gold medal in the same Olympics you are scared to attend than you are of dying in a terrorist attack.PHOTO: REUTERS

Here come the London Olympics 2012 with another cynical exploitation of fear, thousands of law enforcement officials to protect the public and use of devices as advanced as the LRAD (Long Range Acoustic Device). To top it off, there was the very timely ‘terror visa scandal’ scam by The Sun.

As the media projects and orchestrates it, sometimes it seems as though terrorism is the only cause of unnatural death that we face. It seems like the lives of millions of travellers are at risk solely due to this threat alone. There were 2.84 billion commercial air passengers in 2011 alone with only 373 fatalities, so one’s chance of dying in the commercial jet is 1 in 7.6 million.

With the emotionless and analytical brain that I have, I wanted to put things in perspective. Statistically speaking, here are few odds of dying with the causes:

Ø        Drowning in a bathtub: 1 in 685,000
Ø        Fatally slipping during a shower: 1 in 812,232
Ø        Being struck by lightning: 1 in 576,000
Ø        Being murdered: 1 in 18,000
Ø        Dying from any kind of injury: 1 in 1,820
Ø        Dying from intentional self-harm: 1 in 9,380
Ø        Dying from assault: 1 in 16,421
Ø        Dying in a car accident: 1 in 18,585
Ø        Dying from any kind of fall: 1 in 20,666
Ø        Dying from accidental drowning: 1 in 79,065
Ø        Dying from exposure to smoke, fire, and flames: 1 in 81,524
Ø        Dying from forces of nature (earthquake, flood): 1 in 225,107
Ø        Dying from choking on food: 1 in 370,035
Ø        Dying in a fireworks accident: 1 in 1,000,000
Ø        Dying from a dog bite: 1 in 700,000
Ø        Dying from falling off a ladder: 1 in 2,300,000
Ø        Dying form unintentional alcohol poisoning: 1 in 820,217
Ø        Dying from heart disease: 1 in 5
Ø        Dying from a cancer: 1 in 7
Ø        Dying from a stroke: 1 in 23
Ø        Dying from electrocution: 1 in 5,000
Ø        Dying due to a falling coconut: 1 in 250,000,000
Ø        Dying due to a shark attack: 1 in 300,000,000
Ø        Dying of a snake bite: 1 in 3,500,000
Ø        Dying due to food poisoning: 1 in 3,000,000
Ø        Dying in an accident at work: 1 in 43,500
Ø        Dying in a road accident: 1 in 8,000

Now, the odds of dying in a terrorist attack on board is 1 in 25,000,000 (25 million) and the overall average of dying in any kind of terrorist attack worldwide is 1 in 9,300,000 (9.3 million).

If not convinced, here is another interesting set of statistics:

Odds of being an astronaut: 1 in 13,200,000
Odds of winning an Olympic gold medal: 1 in 662,000
Odds of becoming the president: 1 in 10,000,000
Odds of sighting a UFO today: 1 in 3,000,000
Odds of dating a supermodel: 1 in 88,000 (Veena Malik, anyone?)

So, you have twice the chances of becoming an astronaut than flying in a plane doomed to crash due to a terrorist plot. Moreover, the odds of you becoming a president are twice that of  dying in a terrorist attack (isn’t that ironic?). Need some more perspective? Well, you are three times more likely to sight a UFO today, 14 times more likely to win a gold medal in the same Olympics you are scared to attend, and the chances of you dating Veena Malik are 106 times that of you dying in a terrorist attack!

If you, like any logical person, believe that you will never date a Veena Malik-type, for God’s sake, grow up and stop fearing terrorism. Just start enjoying your life.

Follow Zeeshan on Twitter @zeeshanusmani

Zeeshan-ul-hassan Usmani

Zeeshan Usmani

A Fulbright Scholar and an Eisenhower fellow, Zeeshan works at a private company and lives in Islamabad. He is fascinated by anything that has a direct impact on the lives of a common man. He tweets as @zeeshanusmani

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Nandita.

    No matter what the odds are,my respect for the Uk govt has grown after seeing the security measures they’ve put in place.Every single life is respected here!And that’s precisely how it should be.
    Had they not had all the security measures and if an attack had taken place,the same writer would have written a blog criticising the govt for not taking the necessary precautions.
    And frankly speaking,i think the fear
    londoners and the govt have is justified. This is just the kind of event terrorists would love to target/disrupt,so taking precautions is the wise thing to do.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Playing with statistics can be fun……… just proved it.Recommend

  • robert mararac

    I believe that this attack can happen people are entitled to believe what we want nobody can be certain there will be an attack but there are plenty of clues hints and signs that there’s a high possibility that it could happen they want the qirld to remember there attacks so why wouldn’t they target a place where all countries are together at once hmmm is it a coincidemce that today 7 Olympic athletes are now reported missing after nit returning back tO the games Monday and there still gone hmm coincidence we finally have a silence for the 7 dead at the Munich Olympics why are the lights pyramid why do the mascots have one eye what the hell did the opening cerimonies have anything ti do with the Olympics lil kids being chased by demons wtf is that so nobody’s certain There will be an attack but who are you to try and tell people there all wrong Recommend

  • Noman Ansari

    9 out of 10 Pakistani blogs on terrorism that use statistics, pander to the masses. 50% of the statistics I use when commenting on blogs, are made up. Recommend

  • Noman Ansari

    Here is an analogy for you. The chances of you dying by being mauled by a tiger are relatively low, statistically speaking, when you looking at general death rates.

    Does that mean you creep into a tiger’s cage at the zoo? Of course not.

    Yes, the chances of an average person going about his average life getting killed by a terrorist attack are low. But this isn’t an average event and it is a specific location.

    I am sure the statistics of terrorists targeting highly public events with such a concentrated gathering of a population are higher than terrorists targeting someone sitting at home.

    When terrorists want to conduct mass casualties, obviously they would rather target high profile places like hotels, concerts, and sporting events to do mass causalities.

    The terrorists don’t need statistics to know which areas to target. They aren’t stupid. Recommend

  • Abdullah Umer

    A wonderful and thought provoking piece. Thanks. I am wondering if particular event or country will be biased with some conditional probability though. Does anyone knows what is the probability of dying in a suicide bombing attack in Pakistan over lifetime?

    Anyway, I like the article very much. A good escape from day-to-day nonsense.Recommend

  • the chosen one

    I find the big Illuminati all-seeing eye in the title off putting. I’m keeping out of London and I’d suggest anyone else to do the same, as there are far too many coincidences for my liking.Recommend

  • Steve Richfield

    The next statistics to compute are the probabilities of being killed by terrorists with and without all the publicity that now surrounds security efforts. Most “security” is “cream puff” that is easily subverted, yet the publicity almost certainly draws terrorists – if there are any left to draw.

    I think you could compare different events or activities with similar intrinsic risks, e.g. with similar duration and attendance, but vastly different advertising about risks. For example, Olympics are much more keen on security after two attacks, than are World Fairs. Of course you would have to go back quite a while, because there has been SO little terrorist activity in recent years.

    Few people seem to realize that Bin Laden has already won. The America that preceded 911 is GONE. Research has STOPPED. There is little need for further terrorist activity, because our economy is in shambles and is now choking on the cost of foreign military interventions. Why would anyone want to sacrifice their life to attack an apparently dying country?

    I agree with you that terrorists present no significant risk, but I suspect that the surrounding hype may present a small additional risk. Why spend money doing things that INCREASE risk. Let’s clamp a lid on all the security hype and let them do their job – behind closed doors.


  • Sidewinder

    what are the odds of a Pakistani dying of a terrorist attack?…..had there been any killing in London,it would have simply been added to the stats.Recommend

  • stinkin’ hot pile

    This is by far one of the most fallible and flawed arguments ever. As Noman Ansari patiently pointed out, the entire information in the article, whether true or not is complete unusable and irrelevant crap. Emotionless or morbid, the biggest dispute I have with the information given is whether you even HAVE a brain. Seriously, concentrate on stuff you can handle and don’t bother the world at large with more crap theories and utter nonsense.Recommend

  • Natasha

    I think you are forgetting what haapened at the Munich Olymoics so yes the security is justified and any event of such a magnitude is a target for terrorists as the entire world is watching it. You should instead take your theory and statistics to our politicians whose protocol consists of 100+ cars. Tell them that they are more likely to die of heart problems because of EATING SO MUCH ( I MEAN BOTH FOOD AND CASH)and not to waste so much of the police force for the protection of a single person.Recommend

  • Noman Ansari

    @download office 2010 professional:

    How did this creep past the moderators? haha! Recommend

  • TAUS




  • Noman Ansari


  • Vikram

    @TAUS: You are the type of person who can never be wrong in his life. Every one else who debates or argues or thinks about debating with you is wrong. Recommend

  • Vikram

    Terrorism indirectly or directly has lead to death of over 1/3rd of Afghanistan population. The odds are low because Governments spend billions of dollars to keep terrorists. in check.Recommend

  • TAUS

    @Noman Ansari:
    Caps are for BLIND people ..and some of them are ..Recommend

  • TAUS

    Did i say something wrong ? Did i say what type of person im ? Did i say you can’t debate this subject ? I just told you the real life of our society is live in … Money and Power this is everything about in this life ..Recommend

  • hassan

    What are the odds of a plane crashing into a high-rise building ? 1 in a billion ?

    What are the odds of your next-seat passenger of your plane carrying explosives in his underwear? 1 in 10 million.

    What are the odds of 7 guys sneaking through a boat into a metro and creating terror for a couple of days ? 1 in 5 million.

    What are the odds of a guy dying in Karachi due to suicide bombs ? 1 in 5 billion.

    What are the odds you surviving in Pakistan if you are a Ahmedi ? Make a guess.

    PS: Please don’t statistics to give you a false feeling of security and warmth. If you think something will never happen because of odds are heavily against it, then, you have got a shock coming your way. Read the book ‘Black Swan’ by Nassim Nicholas Taleb and let the book open your eyes.Recommend

  • Sajjad Manzoor

    Really great one…Recommend

  • Kaneel Zehra

    Wow, I am a stat major and really loved the article. Great job! I also enjoyed the commments, it shows us what level of recognition and appreciation we have on anything based on facts.

    Keep writing…..Recommend

  • Reddy

    no,acts of terrorism ain’t for the people who die in it but for those left to witness the tragedy unfolding in front of their eyes fallowed by the blatant sick celebrations from primitive societies as a symbol of victory, honor. so better don’t oversimplify itRecommend

  • Gratgy

    Caps are for BLIND people
    Interesting! How would typing in CAPs help BLIND people?? Recommend

  • Sahar

    owsomly written. yes! we all have to bow to statistics in our arguments :)Recommend

  • not important

    Thank you so much for this article. It is exactly what I needed to convince everyone I know that airport security measures are insane.
    People are soooooo stupid to be so afriad of terrorists.Recommend