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