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.