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.
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).