Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Why passengers and security personal don’t trust technology?

By Prof. Alan (Avi) Kirschenbaum*

While the debate goes on about how far technology can go to make airports more secure, there has been a growing recognition it is nearing its limits.

This recognition has come partially from the backlash of passengers who feel they are being abused and from the bottom line costs to the aviation industry.

Airport passengers check-in
Passenger backlash, for example, is evident in the latest NPR-Thomson Reuters Health Poll about passenger health fears concerning airports and flying. Not surprisingly, passengers are more fearful of the security procedures in airports than flying! Nearly one quarter (23%) said they would refuse to be examined in one of the whole-body scanners now situated in many airports. A third of people under 35 said they would decline the scans.

The interesting quirk about health has more to do with trust than actual fact. Security personnel operating these machines do not need any “radiation” tags as its impact is minuscule.

Incredibly, the same phenomenon among passengers also appears among the very security employees who screen us. The BEMOSA Project has shown that a similar percentage of security employees don’t trust the very technology they use.

If we put this together with the fact that most also report that the vast majority of security incidents are false alarms, we are entering into a situation where the whole concept of airport security may be undergoing a radical change.

What these few pieces of information suggest is that airports can no longer be considered mass production factories where both the employees and passengers are seen as cogs in an intricate but totally controlled industrial process. The “cogs” apparently have a mind of their own! And, as the data point out, there is a point where control simply will not work.

Perhaps it is time to rethink past concepts of how security fits into an airport framework.

One alternative that makes a lot of sense is to view the airport as a service organization. Its goals are the provision of services to its clients – passengers – and in doing so will require security arrangements to mold themselves into the actual patterns of behavior of employees and passengers. This is a dynamic process but it is doable!

*The writer is the initiator and coordinator of BEMOSA (Behavioral Modeling of Security in Airports).

Monday, November 28, 2011

Passenger complaints drop, but is satisfaction rising?

By Prof. Alan (Avi) Kirschenbaum*

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) recently announced that traveler complaints against it were near an all-time low. A recent report indicated that complaints about the TSA dropped in September to 1,418, the lowest since record-keeping began seven years ago.

So, if complaints are down, passenger satisfaction must be up? WOW! The TSA strategy must be paying off. Yet, anyone who has taken a basic course in statistics recognizes that this is an unpardonable and misplaced interpretation of the recent decline in complaints from passengers.

Source: TSA site
A dozen alternative explanations could account for the supposed decline which have nothing to do with customer satisfaction! Would the decline hold up if based on fluctuations in passenger rates each month (rather than raw numbers) or have passengers simply adapted to the “hassle” and/or fear of retribution by being put on a “list” for enhanced security if they officially complain? How many passengers feel “Why bother complaining when probably nothing will change?”

Not complaining for the official record does not mean that all is well! But it is a start!

With the realization that airports are a “customer-service business,” a major hurdle in the security “mind-set” of policy makers is taking place. It is probably for this reason that “out of the blue” customer complaints are making headlines. This is a good sign, but it is important to recognize that misusing statistics does not bode well in efforts to revamp prior notions of airport security. It will only increase distrust of authorities and lead to utilizing other forms of mass transportation when it is available. Both are death knells for the aviation industry.

*The writer is the initiator and coordinator of BEMOSA (Behavioral Modeling of Security in Airports).

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

TSA makes the right security decisions for wrong reasons

By Prof. Alan (Avi) Kirschenbaum*

What we are witnessing at the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) these days is typical of all organizations that, for survival purposes, are adapting their goals to the exigencies of external pressures.

Source: TSA
In this case, the TSA has given in to a combination of passenger backlash and potential loss of income for the airline industry. Part of this adaptive process still hinges on viewing airports as assembly lines where passengers are cogs in the manufacturing process.

It is therefore not surprising that some marginal changes are being instituted in security rules and regulations with the purpose of speeding up the flow of “units” by reducing “friction” at check points. And, for the first time, the concept of allowing TSA agents to have discretion in making decisions appears to have been taken on board.

This is a leap forward in thinking that should be praised as it recognizes the reality of security decision making revealed by the BEMOSA project which has shown the prevalence of bending, and even breaking, the rules throughout the airport security system by security agents.

What is promising here is that the TSA is finally beginning to recognize that passengers are not homogeneous cogs flowing through a factory, but represent different population segments. Yes, deal with children and family units differently than single adults; yes, pre-profile passengers by age and background; yes, remove the reactive security measures when judged unnecessary.

All this can be done by allowing greater discretion on the part of security employees to make decisions. It is these activities that will make airports friendlier to passengers and not lower security.

The key to enhanced security still and always will, remain in the hands of airport employees and not machines.

* The writer is the initiator and coordinator of BEMOSA (Behavioral Modeling of Security in Airports). The full article has been published in Homeland Security Today.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Man not machinery more decisive in airport security

Prof. Alan Kirschenbaum, initiator and coordinator of the BEMOSA (Behavior Modeling for Security in Airports) Project has reinforced his criticism of the (ITA) International Airport Transport Association’s “Checkpoint of the Future” program in a recent interview with Stephanie Johnson from the Denver International Travel Examiner.

Checkpoint of the Future, which aims to enhance security while reducing queues and intrusive searches at airports by using intelligence-driven risk-based measures, fails to consider the unique make-up of the individual passengers or those individuals working the technology, said Kirschenbaum.

“BEMOSA has discovered a practically unlimited number of potential scenarios in its simulation modeling based on the reality of behaviors we observed,” said Kirschenbaum in the interview. “This means that future training will need to promote proactive and innovative behaviors rather than rote reactions.”

“In addition, all airports are NOT the same due to physical, demographic and cultural characteristics thereby making it essential that each training program fit the social-cultural context of the potential passengers and employees. Not an easy task but doable,” he said.

In the interview Kirschenbaum pointed out that most security technology in today’s airports were born as a “reactive solution to what has happened.”

“It's a "cops and robbers" scenario,” he said. “From our research, it has become clear that the "human factor" will prove to be more decisive than technology in airport security.”

The reason for this, added Kirschenbaum, is because even technology requires human intervention and interpretation.

“It is here that the wide range of human nature, background, past behaviors and characteristics will play a key role in the decisions made,” he said. “Technology will be part of the background but not at the forefront of the security decisions.”

According to Kirschenbaum, airports should not be viewed as mass production facilities but “complex social service organizations where employees (and not machines) make key security decisions.”

BEMOSA's program, which focuses more on the security interaction between employees and passengers, will therefore provide better security and customer service than one based solely on technology, finished Kirschenbaum.

Read the full interview

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Gatwick’s new security plan ignores the human factor

By Prof. Alan (Avi) Kirschenbaum*

It is always a miracle when plans are actually implemented and even more astonishing if they work. The evidence we have is that they rarely do so.

The new security plan announced by Gatwick Airport calling for speedier passage by providing more “lanes” for passenger flow is a typical engineering solution. These solutions have been used for toll bridges, tunnels and highways for years and now we have them at airports.

Security area in South Terminal

Underneath the “make passengers happy” mantra is the aim to increase passenger flow and reduce waiting time. Absolutely great ideas, except that passengers have a way of not following the rules. And it is here that the idea that 5,000 passengers per hour will happily move along through the multi-colored security lanes according to the engineering tune falls apart.

The assumptions made about us as passengers (note: not people) – in what airport managers think of as a mass production factory – disregard the basic variety of behaviors associated with individuals, family units and groups that are thrust into an unfamiliar high risk security environment where threats are made every day.

By leaving the choice of “lane” open to the discretion of the passenger, and basing that choice on media instructions, is one of many fatal flaws in what could have been a better human factor-designed security system.

To make sure 5,000 people get through the security screening every hour assumes everyone is a good and well-informed citizen – an assumption that totally ignores the reality of people’s behaviors.

What is even more disturbing is that it ignores the reality of what happens every day at airports between security employees and passengers.

One more thing, while adding more color-coded lanes is commendable: what if I’m color blind?

*The writer is the initiator and coordinator of BEMOSA (Behavioral Modeling of Security in Airports).

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Making airport security a service for passengers

By Prof. Alan (Avi) Kirschenbaum*

The latest round of making airports more “passenger friendly” reflects what social scientists have long known about the way organizations adapt its goals and internal means in order to survive. The newest policy changes and pilot studies reflect this attempt. But will they work?

Source: TSA
Fact: airports are people servicing organizations.

Reality: they are still viewed as “mass production” units whose operations are based on industrial production techniques utilizing cutting edge technology.

In terms of security, passengers are viewed as an integral part of the mass production process where effective output relies on tighter “controls!” Passengers are not viewed as people but cogs in a complex machine.

But how do these two opposing views fit into what airport organizational administrators need to do in order to survive?

Today, the answer seems to be a repetition of the mass production perspective! Rather than revamping the airport into a people servicing organization, we see the same reliance on production techniques and “control.”

But people are not cogs in a mass production factory, they are customers who want a service. When this message gets through, perhaps the decision makers will start to think in terms of making security a part of the service package along with duty free malls and parking facilities which are customer oriented and have been proven to be both profitable and attractive.

*The writer is the initiator and coordinator of BEMOSA (Behavioral Modeling of Security in Airports).

Monday, September 19, 2011

Privacy vs. profiling in airport security

By Prof. Alan (Avi) Kirschenbaum*

As a growing number of North American airports move to using human behavior modeling methods, criticism over the usage of such screening methods is growing.

Jennifer Stoddart
The first to protest was Canadian Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart expressing concern over a government plan to scrutinize the flying public’s behavior at Canadian airports.

This was followed by US Congressman Bennie Thompson, who called for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to halt the implementation of a new behavioral screening program at Boston Logan International Airport. Both Stoddart and Thompson questioned the scientific basis of the plan and expressed concern over related privacy issues.

Anyone who has ever taken Intro Soc or Psych knows that we all profile, otherwise, how would we know whom to marry, in which neighborhood to live, what friends to choose, and to whom to turn when we need a favor!

Similarly, the furor over privacy is really an ideological debate (and its legalistic consequences) rather than a reflection of the same social processes that foster group rather than individual survival through such mechanisms as organizing into family units, community social networks and other types of organizational forms. Group survival has proven itself.

So the fuss about privacy and profiling has very little to do with how people behave and interact in the real world!

Well, it shouldn’t then come as a surprise to anyone that airport security employees profile – the most natural behavioral response when placed in a “survival type” situation where the next passenger might be a suicide bomber! This is no idle statement as there is substantial empirical proof to back this up.

Even passengers’ awareness of the airport security climate seems to illicit the same profiling modes. How can they not be affected when the loud speakers regularly broadcast insistent warnings about not leaving baggage unattended?

So why not just augment an already deeply ingrained behavior in all of us by making profiling a bit more sophisticated (as in the example of the Israeli airport) to enhance the ability of airport personnel to catch the bad guys? What good will your privacy or legal rights be when the bomb goes off?

* The writer is the initiator and coordinator of BEMOSA (Behavioral Modeling of Security in Airports).

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Statistical Model in Airports Unlikely to Catch Terrorists

By Prof. Alan (Avi) Kirschenbaum*

Engineering researchers at the University of Arkansas have created a statistical model of the daily operations of general aviation airports in order to help show unusual activity that could suggest a security threat, according to a recent report.

The model is based on factors such as annual number of landings and takeoffs; total number of planes based at an airport; whether an airport has a traffic-control tower, and other detailed data.

“We want to understand the variation associated with usual general-aviation activity and operations, so unusual activity can be detected, analyzed and resolved,” said Justin Chimka, associate professor of industrial engineering and a researcher at the rural transportation center.

Catching potential terrorists by monitoring thousands of airport activities and then looking for blips from an artificial “norm” is like discovering a rash on your body (statistically abnormal), then trying to discover its origin, knowing full well that it may have originated from dozens of potential sources.

Anyone familiar with airport operations and the thousands of potential sources for “abnormal activities” will realize that the tunnel vision being promoted by the research supported by the DHS (U.S. Department of Homeland Security) to monitor airport security may look great on colored graphs (or monitors) but is unlikely to catch the terrorists until it’s too late.

The tunnel vision promoted by a stand-alone engineering or technological approach is simply missing the boat.

As airports are complex social organizations where employees like ourselves are trying their best to maintain continuity of operations in the face of potential security threats, the decisions we make – be they facing passengers or checking suppliers of services – are not based on statistical abnormalities but on those good ole-fashioned human qualities gained through training, experience, and to some extent, gut feelings.

Technology is a tool to help make those decisions, but we have enough research evidence to show that trusting technology and bending the rules are a critical part of the security decision-making process: a very human characteristic.

So, perhaps it may be a good time to start refocusing on people and not on a virtual world of statistical devices in catching the bad guys.

* The writer is the initiator and coordinator of BEMOSA (Behavioral Modeling of Security in Airports).

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Watching security at the London olympics through an airport prism

By Prof. Alan (Avi) Kirschenbaum*

According to an initial report in The Daily Mail, London Olympic Committee security personnel appear to have taken a page out of airport security protocol in order to smoothly move the tens of thousands of spectators, employees, volunteers, athletes and reporters into the main stadium to watch world records being broken.

Twelve thousand police, 15,000 private security personnel and thousands of CCTV cameras, screeners and scanners will be in place in order screen those entering the stadium, assuring coordinated communications among everyone involved. It is estimated that it will take only 20 minutes to navigate the security checks.

If airport security systems are to act as the framework for the London Olympics, it would be wise for the Olympic Games’ security advisors to look very carefully at some of the current research being generated on airport security.

What has been found is a real eye opener: about a third of security employees regularly bend and even break the rules and procedures when necessary. Two findings are of interest – decisions are not made by individuals but as a group process and communications between security employees run along a parallel informal social network rather than the typical control command chain!

Where does this leave us? If indeed security at the London Olympics will mimic airport security, such non-procedural behaviors must be accounted for or we can expect the same dissatisfaction exhibited by passengers who prefer alternatives to flying when possible.

The London olympic stadium 2012
Security advisors and London police should be thinking of alternative ways to better match the reality of “security-spectator” interaction, something the BEMOSA project has already looked into and is generating some unique solutions.

So, potential Olympic Games goers, be prepared to remove your shoes, belts and get caught up in some nasty pushing matches and frustrating waits, but don’t be so sure you will catch the game!

* The writer is the initiator and coordinator of BEMOSA (Behavioral Modeling of Security in Airports).

Monday, July 25, 2011

British ‘passenger friendly airport’ proposal unrealistic

By Prof. Alan (Avi) Kirschenbaum*

British Secretary of State for Transport Philip Hammond proposal to resolve the security issue at UK airports by introducing a “passenger friendly” approach should raise a lot of eyebrows.

The keystone of this idea is to move away from the current highly prescriptive one-size-fits-all approach to one that will provide greater flexibility in the way they screen passengers.

Source: Department for Transport
Apparently, in reaction to a US survey showing that passengers are keeping away from airports due to the “non-friendly” security treatment they receive and the resulting cost to airports and airlines, the British have come out with the right buzz words. All to bring back and increase the number of customers – and with it airport and airline revenue!

But how do we make airports “passenger friendly?” Research evidence has found that nearly a quarter of security employees do not follow the prescribed rules and regulations and a similar number even initiate and break the rules when necessary.

Thus, despite the universal, monochromatic, security procedures instituted by governments or local agencies – the same ones that are reactive and see all passengers as potential terrorists – are already being modified by the security employees themselves. This tells us not only about the effectiveness of the security protocols and procedures but also how security employees are being underestimated. Their rule bending is actually innovative behavior that attempts to deal with passenger dissatisfaction and make security procedures more effective.

It appears that the rigid rules and procedures have become so fossilized within the airport organizational administration and reinforced by legalistic protocols issued periodically that workers simply do not allow local or internal adaptive changes to take place.

If this is the case, is it possible to move to a more flexible system of passenger security screening?

Without the active participation of security managers and evidence-based policy changes on the part of the public agencies overseeing the running of airports and security, substantive changes will not take place. Simply piling on more rules and regulations, while ignoring the complex social dynamics of security employee decision making, will only produce another virtual “ passenger friendly ” airport.

* The writer is the initiator and coordinator of BEMOSA (Behavioral Modeling of Security in Airports).

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Boarding pass breach emphasizes need to pay attention to human factor

By Prof. Alan (Avi) Kirschenbaum*

A recent report concerning the arrest of a Nigerian man who slipped by airport security controls numerous times by using a series of fake boarding passes once again reveals the Achilles heel of airport security.

Airport authorities rely almost completely on technology and routine, but only marginally invest in employee initiative or innovative behavior. This typical pattern was uncovered in an ongoing EU study focusing on security employees and passenger behavior in major European airports conducted by BEMOSA (Behavioral Modeling of Security in Airports).

Analysing passenger behavior in airport terminal

But what we also discovered was that despite the emphasis on technology and following rules and procedures, many of the security employees provided a clear indication of a willingness to take the initiative when the situation called for it, even bending or breaking the rules when necessary.

Just the fact that so many did not trust the security technology was a back-handed indication they felt they were being under-utilized. A pilot study supported this interpretation dramatically as close to 90 percent of the sample of security employees felt that their managers were not paying attention to their suggestions on how to improve security.

Perhaps it is about time we started to utilize this evidence as a basis to rethink how to best invest in employees as an integral part of airport security, and to stop thinking about them as a necessary cog in maintaining the rules and procedures.

* The writer is the initiator and coordinator of BEMOSA.

Friday, June 17, 2011

IATA’s ‘Checkpoint of the Future’ likely to fail

By Prof. Aln (Avi) Kirschenbaum*

Source: IATA
The concept of “Checkpoint of the Future” proposed by the IATA as a means of streamlining passenger flow is based on two erroneous assumptions which have continually been supported by airport planners and security experts.

The first is the assumption that passengers are “objects” that can be manipulated by the tenets of engineering and production processing and the second is that technology can replace humans in security decision-making situations.

Both of these assumptions have been proven wrong based on preliminary results obtained by researchers participating in BEMOSA (Behavior Modeling for Security in Airports), an EU-funded project. For one, an analysis of a broad sample of passengers revealed clear differences between men and women, those with children and those without in terms of how they perceived airport security and potential behaviors in emergency or crisis situations.

Treating passengers as an undifferentiated mass totally overlooks differences in their behavior throughout their airport “experience,” including security checks and confidence and trust in the airport management (via security employees) to protect them.

Even more startling was the large proportion of security employees who had little or no trust in security technologies, even though they themselves utilized them! Combining this fact with a similar inclination to bend or even break the rules if the situation called for it places a very large question mark over the capabilities of technology as the last word in security when there appears to be a large margin of “judgment calls” being made by security employees.

What these BEMOSA results all point to is that while engineering and technology are part of airport security systems, without taking into account the real behaviors of passengers and employees, attempts at making the airport a friendly and inviting place will likely fail.

* The writer is the initiator and coordinator of BEMOSA.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Adaptive Airport Employee - what happens when the rules don't cover the security situation!

By Prof. Aln (Avi) Kirschenbaum*

BEMOSA analysis of a field survey of European airports that entailed interviewing a broad range of airport employees has shown that some employees are more adaptive in dealing with unusual threatening situation than others. 

This is in sharp contrast to the security framework of rules and procedures that were developed to guide their actions during routine and threatening security situations. The fact that a large proportion of the total sample of respondents (75%) had never encountered a "real" security threat or believed that most threats were "false alarms" (65%) may have played a role in affecting such adaptive behaviors. Typical of responses were that such employees would bend the rules if the situation calls for it (35%), even act against orders (20%) or break protocol to get the job done (40%).

After a careful analysis of the responses it became apparent that three key features of employees' characteristics were significant in being able to adapt to "new" or "unusual" situations not covered by the numerous rules and protocols in place: these were related to a specific set of personal, organizational and social network traits. 

Of even more interest is that the proportion of adaptive employees significantly varied by airport suggesting that the organizational and/or cultural climate of each has an impact on its employee's ability to adapt to non-routine and unusual security threats. Further, given the ever changing threats and the "catching up" through reactive regulations, following "old" rules may not be the best strategy to make airport security more effective; making it imperative to enhance training so as to reward adaptive behaviors as a proactive means of dealing with the unexpected.

* The writer is the initiator and coordinator of BEMOSA.   

Thursday, June 2, 2011

BEMOSA to showcase findings at NDM 2011 in Orlando

Scientific Manager of BEMOSA Dr. Michele Mariani from the University of Modena e Reggio Emilia will lecture on "investigating security-related behavior and decision making in airports" at the NDM 2011 event in Orlando, Florida this week.

The presentation will take place as part of the 10th International Conference on Naturalistic Decision Making (NDM) on Friday, June 3, 2011, in room Boca 5, as part of the "Socio-cognitive Factors in Naturalistic Settings” session.

The session will present the initial findings of BEMOSA’s (Behavior Modeling for Security in Airports), study of European airports. By studying airports throughout Europe, the EU co-funded BEMOSA project is collecting evidence of naturally occurring security-related social decision making.

The findings will form the basis for the development of an evidence-based dynamic and realistic simulation of airport decision-making and will help deliver evidence-based training modules.

NDN brings together world leaders in research seeking to understand and improve how people actually perform cognitively complex functions in demanding situations. The NDM community represents an interdisciplinary group of researchers united by their study of human performance in situations marked by time pressure, uncertainty, vague goals, high stakes, team and organizational constraints, changing conditions, and varying levels of experience.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Jane’s: More attention should be paid to airport security function

More attention should be given to the way airport security staff function, according to a new report published by the prestigious Jane’s Airport Review, which focused on BEMOSA’s (Behavior Modeling for Security in Airports) initial findings.

The report, titled “Research seeks to boost the human factor,” indicates that the BEMOSA’s findings question many of the shibboleths of airport security.

It noted that BEMOSA proposes looking at an airport as a complex social organization.

Source: IHS Jane's
“Even a small airport comprises a number of different departments that have to work with each other, and there are outsourced workers such as caterers, maintenance staff and police [as well],” Prof. Alan Kirschenbaum, initiator and coordinator of BEMOSA told Jane’s. “The decision-making process in security at the airport is not made by individuals at all.”

Kirschenbaum remarked that existing protocols laid down by the EC for airport security contained a glaring omission: “There is not a single mention of people… in them – only technology.

“The problem is that people are neither totally rational nor logical,” Kirschenbaum added, referring to the need to establish training programs that allow enhanced decision making.

“The training program arising from BEMOSA will introduce something new in the world of social research: it will use simulation programs to generate scenarios based on real data. This rarely happens – most computer simulation programs are underpinned by assumptions about behavior,” he said.

Dr. Michele Mariani of Modena University, scientific manager of BEMOSA, pointed out in the article that the preliminary results meant that “one may conclude that there are complex social patterns taking place in airports that cannot be pictured solely on the basis of what rules/procedures/protocols/ expect. It appears that employees do not rely primarily on procedures or rules only.”

The report concluded that when BEMOSA’s final findings are released in 2012 they would probably point towards a deep cultural change in a sector that relies upon standard operating procedures (SOPs).

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A second look at the new roadmap to US air travel security system

By Prof. Aln (Avi) Kirschenbaum*

The US Travel Association and a panel of travel and security experts recently published a plan to improve security at America’s airports and reduce the burden on travelers. This initiative follows research which revealed that travelers are avoiding two to three trips per year due to unnecessary hassles associated with the security screening process.

While we at BEMOSA (Behavior Modeling for Security in Airports) agree that the basic idea of making airport environments in general and in terms of security more user- (passenger-) friendly is a good one, we have the following reservations:
  • It is very difficult to dictate when passengers will arrive at airports It is also not possible to treat passengers as items on a conveyor belt. The rational and logical production engineering systems do not fit human behaviors, especially the heterogeneous populations that use airports. BEMOSA studies of passengers show that their behaviors differ: families, frequent flyers, businessman and others behave differently in cases of emergencies.
  • While the plan calls for reducing the number of travel items screened by security, studies of time spent going through the security screening process show that it is not likely that reducing the number of items will have an impact. What is crucial is the screening process by security employees, and especially the degree to which rules are followed. Reducing the number of items may only marginally reduce the flow problem.
  • As for the introduction of new technologies, building a better mouse trap will still catch the same mice. What is crucial here is that security employees may view technology as not the best way to provide security. In the recent BEMOSA project results, this appears to be the case, indicating that a large proportion of security professionals do not trust technology and rely more on their experience.
  • The consequences, from the airports’ perspective, may not be advantageous. This stems from the fact that by reducing time in airports you impact revenues, as a large chunk of an airports income is derived from the number of passengers passing through it.
  • Airports, in reality, have become shopping malls, which also happen to have aircraft landing and taking off. Currently, most revenues are not related to the “air” part of the airport, but are, in fact, derived from rental of shops, parking fees, etc. Therefore, time spent in the airport is directly related to income production and this might affect decisions to “reduce” time spent.
  • The panel called for the implementation of a well-defined risk management process. This is a serious problem, as it is constantly shifting in terms of potential threats. We assume this means “profiling” in a politically correct fashion.  This appears to be a major point in the recommendations. In the BEMOSA data, we found that it was already in place in terms of who security employees perceived as a potential threat. Here again, assumptions are made that somewhere along the travel line someone (security) will do their jobs correctly. Case studies have not found this to be accurate.
  • What the panel has also ignored are non-passenger parts of the airport. Airport security is not only passengers but cargoes, baggage and maintenance, which have an impact on reducing or minimizing actual threats.
* The writer is the initiator and coordinator of BEMOSA.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Vast majority of airport workers: Management ignores our opinion on security issues

By Prof. Alan Kirschenbaum*

As part of the BEMOSA (Behavior Modeling for Security in Airports) project, we interviewed security staff at airports throughout Europe, and found that: 

One of the most critical issues identified during these interviews was that nearly 75 percent of security employees perceived that airport top management ignored their opinions about the reality of dealing with security management.

This can become critical in dealing with a threat, as in many cases the rules and performance measures are often made by managers who have no practical work experience. The ideas and observations of employees with day-to-day experience could provide invaluable feedback for improving both cargo and passenger flow. 

For example, screeners at one airport complained that they could hardly see the screen of the screening device during afternoon shifts, when the sun shone directly on them through the glass panels. Other employees emphasised that even though they operated one of the most modern screening devices, its conveyor belt was too slow and they often had to return to the older device during peak hours.

Add to this the response of more than a third (35%) of interviewees that they were not satisfied with the level of training they received. 

This is a clear signal that the rules and protocols do not match the reality of dealing with security management.

This attitude of management has apparently led to another critical issue. More than half (57%) of the interviewees complained that they were understaffed and that there was high staff turnover (49%). This combination can have lethal results as they feed on one another and possibly lead to a lack of motivation and job performance. This possibility was supported by a third of the security employees interviewed (35%), who expressed their low or non-existing motivation in performing their tasks. 

Although many of the respondents identified salary as the major motivating factor, a fifth (22%) stated that they were not interested only in their monthly wage but also what human resource managers describe as the typical basis of a good employer-employee relationship. This includes simple behaviors such as praise for a good job, not being punished for trivialities and creating a climate where management stand by their employees and create a feeling of support during day-to-day duties.

*The writer is the initiator and coordinator of BEMOSA 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Study of European airports shows definite need to improve security decision making procedures

The first in-depth study of European airports, conducted by BEMOSA Consortium, indicates that airport personnel do not rely primarily on procedures or rules in emergency cases. 

The study shows that there is a definite need to improve security decision-making procedures. This was reflected in the clearly observed problems of recognizing a threat and acting upon it.

The report indicates that there appears to be a gap between procedures and actual behaviour when a threat is recognized and especially when it is acted upon.

The study key findings:

 - Only 53.1 percent of airport employees and 63% of security workers said they put complete trust in security technologies.

- Only 23.6% of airport employees and 58% of security workers said that when they saw something suspicious they alerted others.

 - 54.3% of the workers and 40% of security personal never raised the alarm or called a security code.

“Although these are not final results, they illustrate the complexity of actual behaviour in a large organization such as an airport,” said Dr. Michele Mariani from the University of Modena e Reggio Emilia in Italy and scientific manager of BEMOSA. “There are complex social patterns taking place in airports that cannot be pictured solely on the basis of what rules, procedures and protocols expect.”

“There appears to be a gap between procedures and actual behaviour when a threat is recognized and especially when acted upon. It seems, that in such cases informal group behaviour is as important as formal procedures,” said Prof. Alan (Avi) Kirschenbaum from the Technion in Israel, a world expert in disaster management and initiator and coordinator of BEMOSA. “Cases in which procedures are not followed should not necessarily be viewed as a negative phenomenon.”

Kirschenbaum added that highly motivated security personnel show initiative and creativity in handling situations when procedures are not sufficient or relevant. He noted, however, that not following procedures was usually a result of lack of skills or training.

Monday, February 28, 2011

BEMOSA to host special workshop on airport security in Brussels

The BEMOSA (Behavior Modeling for Security in Airports) consortium will hold an open workshop on applying human factors to airport security in Belgium on Wednesday, May 25, 2011.

The event is specifically designed to meet the needs of airport security professionals, airport management officials, human resources and operations, providers of airport security services, providers of airport security training services, public officials and policy makers. The free-of-charge workshop will take place at the offices of the European Commission, Rue du Champs de Mars 21 in Brussels in room SDR1, Building CDMA (Floor –1).

Topics will include among others:
  • Challenges to airport security
  • Airport security training
  • Trends in EU regulation and legislation
  • Lessons from field studies in European airports
The workshop will discuss the implications of operation, legislation and training of airport employees, as well as avenues for further research.

BEMOSA will present updated results from a recent survey conducted in European airports, with a special emphasis on the principles of social networking applied to airport security.

Through this workshop, BEMOSA will be able to obtain an evaluation by experts of the principles of applying human factors and social networking to security and comments from stakeholders.

It is obligatory for participants to register for the event before May 18, 2011.