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).*

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