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.