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.
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).