Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Drunk passengers more threat to airport security than terrorism

Drunk and disorderly passengers are more likely to pose a threat to airport security than terrorism, Professor Alan (Avi) Kirschenbaum, coordinator of the Behaviour Modeling for Security in Airports (BEMOSA), told the popular Russian magazine Ogonoik.

In the interview, Kirschenbaum, a professor at the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, said that following in depth research of security apparatus in European airports, “unmanaged drunken passengers” were considered the most serious threat to everyday operations.

Although occurances of drunk and disorderly behavior on flights have diminished due to new European Union laws forbidding the passage of more than 100 mililiters of liquid, including alchohol, on flights, most alchohol consumption takes place at airports themselves, prior to flights.

Airport bars, cafes and duty free shops all sell alchohol in large quantities, said Kirschenbaum.

As a result of the growing number of drunken passengers on airlines, he pointed out that the US have specially trained air marshalls patrolling flights. They are able to arrest disorderly or aggressive individuals and hand them over the law enforcement upon landing.

Kirschenbaum also told the website that in Israel, such guards have been present on flights for many years. He also pointed out that security proceedures differ greatly to Europe, with more emphasis placed on monitoring people and less emphasis on the goods they are carrying. Much of Israel’s security technologies have been adopted in airports worldwide, finished Kirschenbaum.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

BEMOSA to participate in Airport Exchange 2012 in Amsterdam

Representatives from the BEMOSA (Behaviour Modelling for Security in Airports) consortium will participate in Airport Exchange 2012, which will take place from November 26–28, 2012 in Amsterdam.

Prof. Alan Kirschenbaum of the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, a world expert in disaster management and initiator and coordinator of BEMOSA, will be available to discuss the results of the BEMOSA research on the impact of the human factor on airport security.

BEMOSA is a Europe-wide research project aimed at improving security in airports through enhancing the capability of airport authority personnel to correctly detect potential security hazards and reduce false alarms.

BEMOSA has developed a behaviour model that aims to describe how people make security decisions in the face of reality during “normal routine” and crisis situations. This is expected to result in increased security, reduced false alarms and increased profitability.

The findings are based on some 360 interviews of security personnel in eight European airports. Prof. Kirschenbaum will also be able to explore avenues of applying the results in future training programs of airport security personal.

Airport Exchange is jointly staged by both ACI EUROPE and ACI Asia-Pacific, and alternates between Europe and Asia. The event is dedicated this year to “Airports 2020,” and the ideas, processes, solutions and equipment that could be commonplace at airports in 2020 will be presented.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Top International aviation security organisations on one stage at BEMOSA's Capstone conference

Senior representatives from leading European and International aviation security organizations will meet at BEMOSA's Capstone Conference, which will take place in Brussels on November 29–30, 2012, to discuss the applications and implications of human factors on airport security.

Officials from the following organizations, who will participate in the different panels, have already confirmed their attendance:

During the event, BEMOSA researchers will present the groundbreaking results of the research and will discuss the impact and possible applications of the results with various key experts from stakeholder organizations.

The BEMOSA concluding event is specifically designed to meet the needs of airport security professionals, airport management officials, human resources and operations, providers of airport security services and technology, providers of airport security training services, public officials and policy makers.

BEMOSA’s key scientific team will analyze the study’s findings with a focus on the key components affecting security decision-making that will encompass group decisions, informal social networks and deviations from rules and procedures. It will also provide some background about the methodology of the study itself, including the scalability and transferability of the methodology.

The capstone conference will be held in the offices of DG Research of the European Commission in Building CDMA room SDR2, Rue du Champs de Mars 21. The event is free of charge, but registration is obligatory.

You can register either through this link, or by sending an email to bemosa@bemosa.eu.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The US presidential elections and selective airport security

By Prof. Alan (Avi) Kirschenbaum*

The upcoming US presidential elections and the Republican National Convention approval of a platform calling on privatizing the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) have placed into stark contrast two opposing points of view of how airport security should be organized, maintained and operated.

But, as they are both couched in terms of ideology, we are faced with an empirical issue that has never been systematically tested, namely which perspective can produce results that will match what the visionaries of the future airport are looking for?

As ideological perspectives they both suffer from a number of deficiencies that can be simply called “selective facts.” The more scientific term is closer to “cognitive dissonance” where two contending sets of facts force the individual to ignore or place more weight on one set in favor of the other so as to maintain a degree of behavioral consistency. For those who smoke, for example, the fact that cigarette smoking kills is countered by another fact that “everyone dies” as justification for continuing smoking.

This also applies to privatizing airports or keeping them under public scrutiny when “a priori” ideology acts as a prism for the choice of facts to accept and those to ignore.

And what are the facts? This becomes a moot point as “facts” can be selective depending on the particular ideology one prefers. But there remains a light at the end of the tunnel that should provide the discerning reader with a picture of reality of airport security and not based on ideologically selective facts. I am referring to the recent BEMOSA project examining European airports across the continent which was inclusive of both the land and air aspects of airports.

The results of the BEMOSA study reflect a broad picture of airport security operations based on examining employees and passengers across an entire airport’s organizational structure and staff.

The picture provided was of the airport as a complex social organization with a variety of security behaviors that do not fit into the airport’s highly regulated, rule-dominated security system. Bending, breaking, and even going against the rules, frequently occur. Trusting technology affects whether employees follow rules or ignore them. False alarms are the name of the game.

In short, the BEMOSA description and analysis of behavior in airports shows us that there is no “zero-sum” game in airport security and that the present security system on paper does not exist in reality. And, yet, airports continue to grow and function.

What this suggests is that airports are really both private and public organizations. There are the security rules and protocols dictated by the public authorities (the TSA), but embedded in the security system are employees whose organizational security behavior reflects private bottom-line survival needs linked to adaptation and flexibility when the situation calls for it. In short, there is no ideal airport.

If these are the empirical (and not ideological) facts, what can be made of the opposing perspectives to enhancing airport security but simultaneously keeping us, the passengers, happy and the bad guys at bay? Should airports be given the ability to determine what is best for its particular needs or should we continue the public-associated oversight in place today?

As both exist within an airport’s organizational structure, it really comes down to a decision about balance – how much weight will be given to rules and regulations against how much flexibility will be allowed for employees in making judgment calls? That will be the true test toward developing airport security as envisioned for the future.


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

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Airport Security: One Fit for All?

By Prof. Alan (Avi) Kirschenbaum*

In recent months, major security agencies governing the propagation of airport security rules, regulations and protocols have been under pressure to modify a few of the more invasive and annoying rules at security check points. This, of course, was not to make passengers feel better but more likely in consideration of “bottom line” finances. Angry passengers vote with their feet to either put off additional flights or choose alternative ways to get where they want to go. This hurts business, which is exactly what airports are.

One of the many ways to increase business is to ease the flow-through of passengers. This leads to reduced costs in flight delays and adds more time to purchase items at the airport mall, and, of course, can be more cost effective by increasing the utilization of security personnel per passenger “unit.”

But the idea of easing passenger flow requires understanding of both the rationale for the rules and regulations, as well as how security employees make use/or not of these rules for making security decisions. As this requires a substantial investment in basic research, the law of minimum effort comes into play.

One result has been that leading spokespersons for various agencies have been touting the idea that it is advisable to move from the “one rule fits all” to a more flexible position that would differentiate between passengers. This requires minimum effort and cost; and so we now have programs such as “trusted traveler,” and modifying checks on “young children,” as well as other marginal measures as a way of getting people through the system.

But the basic security guidelines imprinted in security employees training regimes remain in place and are utilized – upon penalty of dismissal – for just about everyone.

For passengers and even security employees, the security rites of passage seem to be nearly identical from airport to airport. But why should anyone be surprised? Airports are engineering marvels that use the most highly sophisticated tools to get us from one place to another. What is missing is that the “plan” assumes employees and passengers will act rationally. Big mistake there!

As the results of the first in-depth study of European airports conducted by the EU-funded BEMOSA research project demonstrated, not only do passengers not always act rationally but to some extent employees do not either. The study, which was based on 360 interviews held at eight different European airports, found, for instance, that one of the biggest headaches for security employees are rowdy/drunk passengers.

For security managers a troubling phenomenon is the repeated occurrences where the rules and regulations are bent, broken and even ignored; where false alarms are assumed whenever an “incident” such as unattended baggage occurs.

But despite the similarity in physical configuration and security rules and regulations across airports, the behavioral patterns of both passengers and security employees actually vary from airport to airport. An analysis of the informal social and communications networks among the eight airports studied – a key component that reflects the actual inner workings of any organization – was found to differ substantially. Even levels of rule compliance differed!

Simply put, “one fit for all” does not come close to describing passenger and employee behaviors despite all the efforts to impose them on employees and passengers by physical and administrative means.

And so, despite the facts, the overall perspective of “one rule fits all” still remains a cornerstone of airport security and is generally applied to all airports. There are of course very good reasons for imposing standardized measures on airport security so that stringent rules governing procedures and protocols are in place and maintained. In fact, an airport’s certification is contingent upon fulfilling them.

But a closer examination of these standards shows that they are primarily focused on the physical security of airports. Little or no mention is made of people – neither passengers nor employees. Technology will provide us with the answers.

Not surprising, this attitude may be the Achille’s heel of airport security. Whichever way you turn, security decisions, however automated they may be, are still in the hands of security employees! Someone has to interpret the machines output. This was clearly found in the BEMOSA results where decisions at security points (screeners) depended on the degree to which employees trust security technology.

If the technology was seen as the best way to catch “bad guys,” decisions complied with the rules. But, if technology was seen as one (of many) alternatives to thwarting a threat, then compliance was much more relaxed with bending and breaking rules more commonplace.

Now let’s look at the issue of “one fit for all” from the passengers’ perspective: a viewpoint which does not make too much sense. Passengers come in all kinds of shapes and forms; they enter/exit the airport in groups, by family or alone. They are frequent or first-time flyers, tourists or business persons. Some get nervous at seeing all the armed guards and police; some know the routine, while others need help.

Yet, the security system lumps them all together as cogs in the mass production system designed by engineers to help them “flow” through the maze of airport security. Disregarding them as both individuals and possessing a variety of cultural, religious and social values that affect their behavior and responses (basically dehumanizing them) simply misses the point that “one fit for all” will not work. It is a formula for creating sometimes intractable problems. And this is exactly what happens.

A careful examination of the screening process shows this to be the case. The time it takes for passengers to get through this basic checkup can more or less be predicted by their cultural and social background characteristics as well as the type of flyers they are.

A first-time flyer (for example, a tourist from a country where negotiating is part of the national culture) will likely object when the screeners find a bottle of “spirits” in a carry-on bag. Negotiations will begin; time will pass; the queue will get longer and perhaps even a confrontation will occur. Why? The rules don’t accommodate for these culturally based differences. Knowing that negotiations are likely to occur can be anticipated and dealt with. Being deaf and not responding can lead to an escalation of the situation.

Here again, by discarding the “one fit for all” notion, simple solutions are possible. It takes little effort to understand that the characteristics of passengers in a specific airport are to a large degree unique. Small regional airports attract local populations which may be fairly homogeneous, while hub airports are filled with persons from a multi-cultural and social background mix.

Security employees could go beyond their rule compliance training to incorporate sensitivity to these differences and focus their efforts on the human factor to avoid “flow-through” difficulties.

In fact, it probably is already being done. The BEMOSA project discovered that security employee compliance with the rules and regulations varied by airport. Why would this be so? One could speculate that it is probably because security employees have adapted their security behaviors to match the passenger population characteristics that flow through the airport. This of course needs further analysis, but from corroborating interviews and ethnographic material, it seems a very likely scenario.

If this is the case, the “one fit for all” slogan, which is the natural outcome of those who view airports as mass processing units, has missed its target. Our research has clearly demonstrated this probability. By accepting the “one fit for all,” credo policy makers have unfortunately left behind the key components to airport viability and continuity, namely the employees and passengers – the human factor.

This factor, people, is what makes each airport a unique organization. It also requires that the security process within each be examined within its own cultural, economic and social framework. To lump all airports together misses the point.

It is highly recommended that each airport conduct its own internal security audit based on the guidelines provided by BEMOSA. This can provide airports with a clear picture of the main issues its security personnel are facing and how they differ from other airports.

Once such research is carried out, a detailed working plan can be drafted leading to an improvement in overall security and, no less important, a reduction in costs.


Prof. Alan (Avi) Kirschenbaum from the Technion Institute of Technology in Israel, is a world expert in disaster management and initiator and coordinator of BEMOSA.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Do the informal social networks in airports affect security judgments?

How far do social networks and informal interactions affect the judgments made by airport security personnel during times of crisis? Quite a lot, according to recent research carried out by an international team of specialists in security matters. They say that informal social networks in airports are just as powerful as the formal set of rules and guidelines laid out in specific security directives.

The groundbreaking research, which was published recently in the Journal of Transportation Security, was carried out by Alan Avi Kirschenbaum, Michele Mariani, Coen Van Gulijk, Carmit Rapaport and Sharon Lubasz and is based on survey data collected from a sample of airport employees in several European Airports, as part of the BEMOSA Project.

During their analysis of the findings, the team noted that both formal and informal sources of security information have an impact on the employee’s decisions to comply with the security rules and directives. This is especially noticeable during times of crisis.

The research found that alongside the formal administrative structure of airports, there also exists “a diverse and pervasiveness set of informal communications networks that are a potent factor in determining airport security levels.”

“These two work in tandem and both serve as conduits for the selective flow of information that will ultimately affect airport security,” researchers wrote in the article.

“An airport can no longer be solely viewed as a strictly formal organization governing the security behavior of its employees by imposing administrative directives,” they said. “Rules and protocols are being bent, broken and disregarded.”

And they added: “Apparently there is a vibrant set of informal social networks in airports that provides alternative paths for accessing information and, more importantly directly influence the degree that the security protocols will be followed.”

The article describes airports as “complex social organizations,” characterized, for the most part, as having strong formal social structures that bolster the legal set of administrative rules that affect operational maintenance and continuity. However, little attention is paid to the rich fabric of informal networks that also play a critical role in airport management.

This, say the researchers, is a mistake because both formal and informal structures in airports are important.

“In cases when a security decision needs to be made, it would seem that formal sources of information — given its legal and administrative prerogative — should marginalize information generated through informal social networks. Yet, recent ethnographic evidence has shown that informal social interactions in airports are alive and have an impact on group based security decisions making, along with a great deal of bending and even breaking the rules,” they write.

While it is still not clear to what extent such informal sources of information impact on security decisions, the new research raises serious questions as to the veracity of official formal sources as the sole determining factor is such decisions.

Monday, July 23, 2012

London Olympics security: how to manage visitors and employees?

By Prof. Alan (Avi) Kirschenbaum*

With the London 2012 Summer Olympics  just around the corner, a great deal has been written and said about security. Missiles on rooftops, army troops patrolling streets and 35-40,000 people involved in securing the Olympics games against worse case scenarios.

Source:  London 2012 Olympic site
The underlying fear of a repeat 40 years later of the Munich massacre of Israeli athletes surely hangs over those who are managing security. But in all the discussions about the various scenarios of terror and managerial blunders do we hear about the fact that security at the Games will be guided by the model utilized in airports. This model of airport security is carefully crafted by rules, regulations and protocols that will guide employees in their security decisions. Just follow the rules and everything will be fine!

However, such faith may be misplaced. In fact, a warning red light should begin flashing. The BEMOSA Project is the main culprit: it found the reality of security decision making in airports to differ from the ideal; where bending the rules is commonplace, not trusting security technology endemic and most threats considered as false alarms. But perhaps the airport type security at the London Olympics will be different?

Let us consider this possibility. Unlike stable airports continuity, the Olympics will be concentrated in a fairly "short" time period. This might preclude the possibility of making adaptive managerial and shop-floor changes in tandem with fluid developments in the security situation.

Creating contingency plans take this possibility into consideration. But the basic flaw remains; it is designed to resemble airport security. Security managers and security employees will be expected to abide by the rules and protocols. The basic assumption built into this perspective will remain the same – engineering and logistics that treats people as simply cogs in a complex production unit. Once the reality of the Games visitors and employees behavior supersedes the carefully thought out plans, problems will arise that may not fit into the neat security protocol package.

What can we expect to happen? Again let us look at what the BEMOSA project found in airports. Long queues, frustrated visitors, over-worked security employees! But more importantly we will see how front line 'shop floor' employees will soon be adapting to the situations; yes! Bending and breaking the rules. Finding solutions and implementing them on the spot. These security employees face reality and are forced to make on the spot assessments given the many constraints they face; in particular the actual behavior of visitors facing them at security checks.

This will not likely be the case for security managers as their task is to uphold the administrative rules and regulations. This may breed a situation where there will likely be a gap between their perception of what is happening "on the ground" and the 'shop floor' employees understanding. This also fits in nicely with one of the many findings of BEMOSA, namely that the most frequent complaint of 'shop-floor' security employees is that managers do not listen to their suggestions about what "really" happens and especially their proposed solutions.

If airport security models are the basis for the Olympic Games security, senior security managers should be well advised of what to expect. You simply cannot control either security employees or visitors behavior by the imposition of a rule framework that does not take into account the 'human factor'.


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

Thursday, July 19, 2012

BEMOSA's workshop suggests adding simulation scenarios to training programs

Did you know that there are three typical employee profiles that determine how and airport workers make key security decisions?

Well, according to information collected by the BEMOSA (Behavioral Modeling of Security in Airports) Project, most airport security personnel fall into one of three categories and responses to security threats are determined by these traits.

The project, which is now looking at how to turn its extensive research of airport security personnel into a comprehensive training program to enhance airport security, notes that the first profile is the "adaptive" employee, who tends to bend and break the rules. The second is the "social based decision maker," who nearly always consults with someone before making a decision, and the third, the "compliant bureaucratic decision maker," strictly follows and complies with the rules and regulations.

Using these guidelines, as well as additional research into the critical components in the decision-making process, the BEMOSA team recently held a one-day workshop to lay down the basic guidelines for a training program.

At the workshop, the team highlighted that the overall goals are to “close the gap between knowledge and actual performance, preserve new and tacit experienced based knowledge, as well as support the airports organizational objectives.”

Together they examined how key findings, such as the tendency for group-based security decisions, could and should be introduced into any new training program. They also looked at the role of technology and trust of security machines plays a critical part in making decisions. It was pointed out that because airport security relies so heavily on technology, any sort of training program must address the issue of trust in technology.

Those at the workshop also suggested that sophisticated simulation scenarios, with group based training formats, should also have a place in any sort of training program. In that way, employees could be presented with a number of scenarios based on their profiles and have their responses assessed accordingly. This will enhance their security decision-making abilities.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

New resarch of ‘Underwear bomber’ sheds light on complexities of airport security

By Dr. Coen van Gulijk

A new case study developed by Safety Science group at the Delft University of Technology focusing in detail on the lead-up to a Christmas Day of terror in 2009 sheds light on the complexities and barriers of airport security.

Developed by Ph.D candidate Hinke Andriessen and financed by the BEMOSA (Behaviour Modelling for Security in Airports) consortium with an EU Grant, the case study will be used to enhance security education. Students in a variety of disciplines, including safety science, security, criminology, complex transport systems and human factors, will be able to benefit from its insights.

The study is based on a young Nigerian Muslim, who quickly became known worldwide as the Christmas Terror Bomber. Twenty-three year old Umar Faroush Abdulmuttab tried unsuccessfully to blow up a North Western Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit that safely landed in the US on Christmas Day, 2009.

Despite the safe landing, the case study asks how Abdulmuttab managed to board two different international flights, pass security checks in Africa and Europe and fail to set off any of the global warning mechanisms in place, even though he was on a US watch list and while he was carrying substances that could be potentially fatal. 

The study, which is examines the story chronologically and includes newspaper articles and eyewitness testimonies, shows that securing air transport is a complex problem. 

First, says the author, air travel is international. She points out that not only were there 27 different nationalities on board flight NW 253 but also Abdulmuttab’s trip included stops in four nations: Ghana, Nigeria, and Amsterdam to America. In addition, attempts to ignite the bomb took place in Canadian airspace. 

Secondly, the security barriers installed worldwide to detect suspected passengers do not always perform in the way in the way they are supposed to. In this case the use of several databases failed to identify Abdulmuttab as a terrorist, several detectors failed to identify the bomb, and he was not singled out by security staff. 

Third, risk detection, as an activity for air transport, is a complex matter. It depends on technology and interconnected systems sharing information but the there is an important role for the human to interpret the analyses. Additionally, a bomb is just one of many ways in which air transport can be threatened by terrorists. 

Fourth, with an increasing number of security barriers, it becomes harder to manage them as a coherent system and while international legislation forms the backbone for management putting it into action is no easy feat.

According to the case study’s authors, this incident forces us to rethink security for global air traffic. That a suspected terrorist was able to travel halfway round the world with a bomb,
 interact with stewardesses, evade being caught by security staff, able to lie to a profiler and travel with hundreds of fellow travellers raises many new issues in airport security. Despite the failures of technology, the plane did not explode because of the actions of alertness of passengers. 

In conclusion, the authors point out that this case demonstrates that we should take human factors more seriously in airport security. Any willing person can contribute to security. Maybe, in addition to watching the X-ray screen for explosives the security officer should watch the passenger. After defining the passenger as suspicious he can check his bags. After that, any staff on airports and passengers alike could be instruments for security. They can be trained to recognize threats, talk with their colleagues, act when required and call security when they do not trust the situation. 

“Human behavior and decision-making processes are elements of human factors that, when properly trained and applied, can increase the level of security in air transport,” concludes the study.


The case study was performed by Hinke Andriessen and she was supervised by Coen van Gulijk, both work for the BEMOSA project. 

Monday, July 2, 2012

TSA sleeping on the job

By Prof. Alan (Avi) Kirschenbaum*

And now the firings are happening at another airport! This time security employees at Newark Airport were caught on video “sleeping on the job or failing to follow standard operating procedures for screening checked bags.”

Nothing surprising here about not complying with the rules – recall the results of the BEMOSA findings where bending, breaking and even going against the rules was commonplace!

But what should interest security and airport managers is the charge of “sleeping on the job.” While the details are not available, could it be that employees were” resting” in between flight arrivals/departures when no bags were in need of examination, or was it during actual periods of baggage flow?

More likely they utilized what we discovered in the BEMOSA ethnographic study as an effective system of work performance where employees paired into “idle-active” small groups, rotating from active to idle that allowed each employee to gain needed physical/mental rest from a stressful but routine job. This allowed the partner to be fully focused on his/her job when in active mode.

Let me put this into perspective: employees refer to these types of jobs as “being bored out your mind.” We are talking about routine jobs where the perceived probability of something terrible happening is extremely low. And this is how most airport employees see threats, mainly as false alarms and not likely to happen.

In our case of baggage handlers, checking inanimate lifeless bags constantly flowing by on a conveyor belt – picture Charlie Chapman in Modern Times – and making rule-based security decisions based on the technology (which most do not trust); where an alarm would mean stopping the flow, opening bags and/or recalling the passenger for a security interview (all at a price and underlying threat of being dismissed if too many false alarms are made!) could certainly justify employees going into the “idle-active” mode.

Until those who watched the “big brother” cameras and caught the “dissident workers,” the flow of bags and security levels seemed to work just fine.

So will firing baggage handlers who “sleep on the job” lead to increased airport security? Very doubtful. But putting more stress and pressure on employees to comply with the rules without taking into consideration the social work environment and adaptive ability of workers to cope with such work conditions, the outcomes will likely lead to more mistakes, more human errors and reduced security. So instead of firing them, perhaps it might have been a better idea to learn from them!


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

Related Articles
Florida airport’s TSA firings send workers the wrong message

Drunk, unruly passengers major challenge for airport security personnel

Related Workshops
Open workshop On airport security

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

BEMOSA's next workshop to focus on aviation security training program for airport personnel

The BEMOSA consortium will hold a special workshop in Brussels on July 10, 2012 focusing on the managerial implications of the intermediate findings of extensive research conducted in European airports.

The workshop is the third and last workshop in a series of events devoted to applying human factor and the principles of social networking to airport security. At the first workshop the general conclusions of the study were presented. At the second workshop specific case studies have been provided and discussed, especially their implications for airport security operations in general and false alarms and manager-employee relations in particular.

The third workshop will discuss the implication of the findings of BEMOSA in daily airport management and training programs on enhancing security decisions by airport employees.

The workshop will focus on translating the groundbreaking findings into guidelines for a novel training program for airport personnel. The training program will be based upon unique behaviour models developed by BEMOSA.

The BEMOSA evidence-based simulation and training program will eventually lead to reduced false alarms, increased passenger satisfaction and improved labor relations, ultimately leading to improved profitability.

The workshop will be held in the offices of DG Research of the European Commission in Rue du Champs de Mars 21 in Brussels. The event is free of charge but registration is obligatory.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Florida airport’s TSA firings send workers the wrong message

By Prof. Alan (Avi) Kirschenbaum*

The latest episode of being negatively rewarded for not following airport security rules has hit the headlines once again with reports on the firing of Transportation Security Administration (TSA) workers at Southwest Florida International Airport for failing to perform random screenings.

This, of course, will lead to security being tightened, not out of concern for aircraft and passenger safety but out of fear of being fired. The result: longer lines, more frustrated passengers and loss of revenue for airports.

So what is the big fuss about if, as TSA spokesman David Castelveter said, “It’s the random secondary that did not happen. At no time was a traveler’s safety at risk and there was no impact on flight operations”? The logic of this somehow escapes me, but it does point toward an inherent problem in how security is viewed and practiced.

Just as we found in the BEMOSA Project, bending, breaking and ignoring the rules is part of the normative behavior of security employees. In this case, only 15 percent of the roughly 280 TSA employees at an airport were caught and either fired or suspended. And what was the reason? They did not perform “random checks” of the passengers which, as we have heard, do nothing to enhance security but might make it “a little more difficult” for the bad guys to disrupt air transportation. Of course, this begs the question of “how much more difficult” as against decimating your work force and increasing the frustration of passengers.

Here again we see the overdone imposition of rules as against the judgment and experience of security personnel. Rather than imbed and enrich employees with skills that go far beyond what technology or its related rules can offer, we are sending the message to “keep a low profile,” “don't rock the boat,” “don't take initiative” – just be the robot the engineers and security managers have designed you to be.

And why is this critical to making security decisions?

By treating passengers as sterile cogs who are seen as a threat, we logically must apply the engineering model of airports designed as a mass production high risk facility (akin to a prison). But what if we start to view airports as service providers where passengers are customers?

Well, not unexpectedly, the BEMOSA results have revealed an important clue. Those security employees who considered the security and safety of passengers to be high on their priority list were the ones who tended to bend and break the rules. Those who really didn’t care that much about passengers were the compliant bureaucratic rule keepers.

Just ask yourself: to whom would you rather trust your lives?

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

Monday, April 23, 2012

BEMOSA's next workshop to focus on airport security management and training

The BEMOSA consortium will hold a special workshop in Brussels, Belgium on May 15, 2012 on the managerial implications of the intermediate findings of extensive research conducted in European airports.

The workshop is specifically designed to meet the needs of airport security professionals, airport management officials, human resources and operations personnel, providers of airport security services and technology, providers of airport security training services, public officials and policy makers.

The workshop is the second in a series of workshops devoted to applying human factors and the principles of social networking to airport security. The workshops will discuss the basic findings of BEMOSA, their implications on daily airport management and training programs to enhance security decisions by airport employees.

At the first workshop the general conclusions of the Study of Airports were presented; at the second specific case studies will be provided and discussed, especially their implications for, among others, airport security operations in general and false alarms and manager-employee relations in particular.

The unique behaviour models developed by BEMOSA will be applied to the case studies as well, and will form the basis for the development of a novel training program for airport personnel.

BEMOSA’s researchers will analyze the study’s findings with a focus on group decisions, informal social networks and deviations from rules and procedures.

The workshop will be held in the offices of DG Research of the European Commission in Rue du Champs de Mars 21 in Brussels. The event is free of charge but registration is obligatory.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

TSA critics aim at the wrong goal

By Prof. Alan (Avi) Kirschenbaum*

In soccer and other sports, we have occasionally witnessed the anguish of a player making a “self goal.” It appears that some of the critics of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), charging it with “ineffective tactics and treating travelers rudely,” are really saying the obvious to all of us who have gone through security screening. Nothing new here! So why all the fuss about how we feel as passengers going through security screening? Remember, these are politicians talking!

So let’s look at this criticism in more detail and really get down to the core of the security issue for passengers. And, don’t forget, airport security not only includes passengers but cargo, maintenance, outsourced employees and, not surprisingly, the shops and malls. But for the moment let us focus on passengers as potential voters – for politicians on election day and also as customers who can choose (or not) to fly certain airlines and select airports.

How do passengers fit into the flying game? To answer this it is important to distinguish airports as a flow-through production which has recently been transformed into a large shopping mall and hotel complex that happens to be serviced by aircraft. Simply put, a supermarket found within a factory. Despite this transformation, airport design remains based on industrial engineering principles and “bottom line” results – and security based on technology. Perhaps it’s time for a reevaluation?

As most airports are private enterprises, profits are a driving force that also has direct implications on determining how airport security will be framed. As a production unit, this has meant getting us through the security process as quickly as possible, spending more time at the shops (a money generator), and minimizing flight delays (also very costly). However, despite the rational and logical designs, passengers are still getting annoyed and angry.

But viewing airports as a service organization, airport managers would seek to attract us to use their services by making security as flexible as possible. This would minimize “friction” and simultaneously increase passenger flow with entry into the shopping mall made as effortlessly as possible thereby increasing purchases of goods and services. In other words, good business.

There is no getting away from the fact that passengers are the key component in making airports profitable. Security screening as it is today, whichever way you look at it, does not make many customers happy. The result can easily bring about (and has, according to a recent US report) a large loss of customers and revenue.

What can be done? Lots! Making the passenger happy starts with the simple interaction of security guards and passengers.

The BEMOSA Project has demonstrated that in many cases security guards are focal points for information and help, bending and even breaking the mandated rules if the situation calls for it which, in the eyes of the passenger, makes sense. It’s a difficult job for security employees, but if included in their training are some of the basics of “customer service,” not only will the employees be rewarded by more friendly passengers-customers but the bottom line profits of airports will rise. Result: happy customers and many happy airport shareholders.


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

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Drunk, unruly passengers major challenge for airport security personnel

Drunken or unruly passengers are among the biggest challenges facing airport security personnel and account for the majority of emergency incidents in airports, the preliminary findings of a recent study conducted by the EU-funded BEMOSA (Behaviour Modelling for Security in Airports) consortium, has revealed.

Based on some 360 interviews of security personnel in eight European airports, researchers found that most major security infractions related to confiscation of illegal items and dealing with wayward passengers that were either inebriated or overly aggressive.

A compilation of all reported incidents shared with BEMOSA researchers showed that out of 369 events, 131 stemmed from passengers carrying prohibited articles such as knives, guns and ammunition and 90 involved unruly and disruptive people, most of whom were drunk. It was these incidents that caused the most disruption to security procedures and often staff needed assistance from co-workers or the police when dealing with intoxicated passengers.

“The results illustrate the complexity of actual behaviour in airports,” commented Professor Alan Kirschenbaum, a world expert in disaster management from Haifa’s Technion University and BEMOSA’s initiator and coordinator.

“There is a definite need to improve security decision-making abilities as there is a gap between procedures and actual behaviour when a threat is recognized,” he added. “Security decisions tend to be inconsistent as employees regard most threats as false alarms, have never faced a real threat and have pre-biased estimates of what constitutes a threat.”

The report’s findings also indicate that airport employees often do not rely on procedures or rules and more than one-third of those interviewed admitted bending the rules when the situation called for it. The interviews also revealed that employees’ concerns are not perceived to be terror related but are primarily connected to passengers.

The full results of BEMOSA’s study has been presented at a special workshop in Brussels on March 19, 2012 in the offices of DG Research of the European Commission on Rue du Champs de Mars 21.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

TSA becomes passenger sensitive at last

By Prof. Alan (Avi) Kirschenbaum*

We are finally seeing the reality of airport security made official. If you’re over 75 or younger than 12, you get “preferential” treatment when it comes to security!

Source: IAA site
Nothing new here as airport security has long been inundated by security decisions that are characteristic of bending and even breaking the rules – especially when the situation calls for it. What has changed is that TSA airport agency managers have been forced to face reality, something that – to the consternation of the “shop floor” employees – has long been missing.

Nothing new here either: managers have not been in touch with the realities of stress, pressure, anger and frustration among security employees, and especially among passengers. This is exactly what employees reported in the BEMOSA project to be their greatest complaint against their managers.

So, what we see now is a remarkable, positive sign that perhaps the rule makers and regulators are starting to take into account human behavior and are no longer viewing passengers through the prism of an industrial process but rather as a human service organization.

Let’s hope the ages for preferential treatment expand to include all of us!

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

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The “compliant bureaucratic” screener makes pumping decisions

By Prof. Alan (Avi) Kirschenbaum*

The most recent case of misplaced security enthusiasm at airport security occurred recently when the breast pump of a nursing mother was labeled a potential threat to air security.

Actually this decision, like many others which are made, fits into a pattern of behavior of security employees that the BEMOSA research project discovered in its search to understand how security decisions are made.

From what we have found, there seems to be clusters of employees who have very similar security decision “profiles” that will predict the degree to which they will comply with the rules and protocols issued by the official agencies involved in airport security.

Fall into the hands of the “compliant bureaucratic” screener and you will have your breast pump removed. But if you encounter an “adaptive employee,” the chances are that she/he will let you through with a smile!

The fact that we are able to distinguish (profile) among employees by the degree they will adhere to or bend the rules has extraordinary consequences for airport management, and especially the level of security required at airports.

For a start, it can be utilized in recruitment of new employees. Do you want to catch the breast pump passenger or be more flexible? Are you aiming to make passengers more “security amiable” or instill fear into them? Do certain areas of airport security require greater rule compliance than others? All these issues are related to the security profile of the employee.

So, with all the arguments about profiling passengers being addressed, it is clear that it also makes a lot of sense to do so when dealing with security employees.

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

Monday, March 5, 2012

Client Expectations Versus Airport Security Rules

By Prof. Alan (Avi) Kirschenbaum*

Recent statements about making airport security more “passenger friendly” seem to have hit a snag.

As I have pointed out in the past, one of the key components for making airports more secure and friendly is to have the courage to make the conceptual switch from thinking of airports as production facilities to regarding them as service providers. One consequence would be to view passengers not as a mass of units flowing through the airport but as clients who are purchasing goods and want to be satisfied.

What then do we make of three women in their eighties bitterly complaining to the TSA about being taken aside and being asked to prove their innocence as a potential threat to airline security? Security screeners insisted that one remove a back brace for screening, another had her colostomy bag inspected and the third had to verify an insulin pump in her leg.

With each of these “incidents” there comes into play what social scientists call the “Halo Effect,” where hundreds of waiting passengers see the incidents or hear about them and sympathize with these elderly women. This halo is magnified and can grow like a rolling snow ball.

Talk about the negative impact related to the airport’s (or TSA) image and expectations of “friendly service”! But it is much deeper than just image; it reflects the blind obedience to rules and regulations that disregard the wealth of cultural and social diversity that are characteristic of passengers.

The empirical evidence that has accumulated in both our and other case studies repeatedly shows that when security employees are given discretion regarding when to apply rules and when to ignore them, they are empowered and more committed to the security of passengers. This means better security. It also means making judgment calls that will keep passengers satisfied and not indignant.

But the good news is that the culprits (the screening employees) in the incidents cited above will receive refresher training on “how to respectfully and safely screen passengers with disabilities or medical conditions.”

Of course, the question one must ask is: what about the rest of us?

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

Thursday, March 1, 2012

BEMOSA to hold workshop on human factor in airport security

If you ever wanted a better understanding of the reality of security decision-making behaviors and the impact technology and social networks have on airport security, then a special workshop taking place in Brussels this month could be the place for you.

Organized by the BEMOSA (Behaviour Modelling for Security in Airports) consortium, the workshop to be held in the offices of DG Research of the European Commission on Rue du Champs de Mars 21, on March 19.

It will showcase intermediate findings of the most cutting-edge research undertaken to develop new behavior models and enhance airport security.

Aimed specifically at airport security professionals, management officials, human resources and operations, providers of airport security services and technology, providers of airport security training services, public officials and policy makers, the forum will shine a spotlight on the reality of security decision-making behaviors, with a special emphasis on the impact of technology and social networks on security compliance.

The event will also reveal some unique behavior models developed by BEMOSA, which will eventually form the basis of a new training program for airport personnel.

The workshop is the first in a series of events to be organized by BEMOSA in 2012. All events aim to grasp a better understanding of the human factor and the principles of social networking as applied to airport security and to enhance security decisions made by airport employees.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Privatizing Security Police

By Prof. Alan (Avi) Kirschenbaum*

Policy makers should know better than to use single examples to argue for or against a particular policy. For every positive example there can always be found a negative example – the “ABC” of basic introductory research methods! So why all the fuss over a CNN story about security employees making a mistake: one that admittedly takes down the airport for a few hours? There is obviously something brewing that has led to the outburst of why the the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) should let go and allow more autonomy to local airports to hire their own security employees.

But what are the facts? From an organizational point of view, we are seeing competition over resources and control primarily generated by an organization’s need for survival and growth. The TSA, if it allows airports autonomy over their security, will simply become a funnel for budgets directly into the hands of local airport security managers. They may still determine safety and security standards but the consequence will be a radical downsizing and loss of political power.

On the other hand, the airports will be free to hire and train security employees according to their own views of how security should be implemented. Autonomy in this case brings with it greater control over the security environment and less dependence on external constraints.

Sounds good, but there is a BIG catch! It is probably irrelevant who does the hiring and training as the “proof of the pudding is in the eating,” and the BEMOSA project has shown that the key to enhanced security has to do with the employees. Utilizing the same training and procurement systems for technology will not eradicate the facts of life in airport security. There will continue to be social behavior that supports up to a third of the employees bending the rules and protocols; there is even a greater proportion that mistrusts the technology or the overwhelming decisions made on the basis of group think and not individuals.

So, all the fuss about control over airport security is really a smokescreen for the more generic problems that are embedded in our airport security systems. Does it really matter who gets the budgets, or who can hire or fire? What is needed is an evidence-based evaluation of airport security that focuses on the security decision-making process and then comes to terms with the results!

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

Monday, February 6, 2012

Individual initiatives outplay security instruments

Large percentage of security and other personnel in airports do not wholly trust their security instruments and, to some extent, rely on their gut feelings when it comes to inspecting passengers, according to a presentation given by Dr. Coen van Gulijk from the BEMOSA (Behaviour Modelling for Security in Airports) project at the European Organization of Security (EOS) meeting on January 16.

Dr. van Gulijk, who teaches at the Delft University of Technology, presented BEMOSA's findings showing that often security personnel use their own initiatives to double-check bags or items, even when the instruments they are using do not raise the standard alarms.

From the interviews and surveys conducted with security personnel, BEMOSA researchers also noted that group consultations usually form the basis of security decisions in airports, over individuals determining alone what course of action to take.

Dr. van Gulijk, said that observing the actual behavior of security workers in airports indicates that on a daily basis, many non-routine security events take place that trigger non-routine security behavior. This means that often ad-hoc decision-making ends up solving various security problems.

The study presented at EOS also shed light on the information network used by security personnel while at work. Findings show that the interaction between colleagues in different departments is essential, with workers turning to many different colleagues with their questions. In addition, security personnel often rely on regular passengers as reliable sources for security information about fellow-passengers.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Costa Concordia: Trusting Technology or Human Error

By Prof. Alan (Avi) Kirschenbaum*

“State of art ship hits a reef close to shore. 4,000 passengers evacuated safely. Human error the likely cause.” Sound familiar? Now replace “ship” with aircraft or train and what we see is a pattern where the interaction of technology and humans sometimes doesn’t work out. This is especially acute when transportation safety and security decisions are abdicated to technology to be the final arbiter.

Source: Costa Cruises  
One of the factors contributing to the tragedy of the Costa Concordia, which ran aground last week off the Italian coast, is that in recent years large cruise ships are more dependent on sophisticated technology. So, for instance, news agency Reuters concluded that “computerized systems are taking over much of the safety burden and crews are dependent on what the equipment tells them.”

This does not mean that technology should be forsaken; but the degree of trust that decision makers place in technology will have a direct impact if “recommendations” or outputs are complied with. Those who did not place much trust that technology can detect or stop a threat were more likely to bend or even ignore the rules to fit the situation. So, in a sense, “human error” can be blamed in large part on trusting technology as the final authority in cases where security and safety are concerned.

In the case of the Carnival Corp.'s Costa Concordia cruise ship, state-of-the-art safety technology was in place. We will only know later on if “human error” can be identified as the culprit in the disaster. But if past findings are any indication, the reasons are far more complex and lie in both the methods that crews are trained in and the organizational directives that reinforce the use of technology to generate mindless decisions.

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