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).