By Mr. Benny Landshut
Imagine the following scenario…
A passenger and their child are waiting in line to get their bag screened at the Airport. Their bag is placed into the x-ray machine and shown on a screen ready for analysis by the screener on duty. As the screener sees something that may look suspicious, he stops the bag and analyses its x-ray image for approximately 2 minutes.
The screener calls over one of his colleagues, and then their supervisor and together they all examine the x-ray image further. Finally, they take the bag to the nearest counter, open it, and after a quick search, pull out a toy replica of a 9mm handgun. So far so good, the security team have fulfilled their job and successfully detected a replica of a weapon.
Imagine now a seemingly similar, yet completely different scenario…
Although we are still dealing with a passenger and their child, this time the passenger is not a parent who has made the innocent mistake of packing his child’s favorite toy but a dangerous psychopath. As in the previous scenario, the security team gathers in front of the x- ray machine’s screen and analyses the suspicious bag’s image. After a few minutes, they take the bag to the nearest counter to carry out the search procedure in front of the passenger.
As the screener pulls the gun from the bag, the passenger, realising that he is about to be exposed, grabs the gun and opens fire.
Why did they act in such hesitancy – gathering, consulting and delaying the search procedure?
This familiar phenomenon has a number of possible explanations which are typical to the security world of airports and elsewhere
a.The employees are concerned that they will create a false alarm and be held responsible for causing delays and disturbing the airport routine as they know that although they formally acted correctly, they will receive an informal warning for creating an unnecessary disturbance.
b.The employees have never experienced a real event in the past and do not believe the threat is “for real”. In their minds the worst case scenario is that they find a toy gun
c.The existing procedure for actions in case of a suspicious weapon is not detailed or clear enough, especially in “border line” cases
d.The employees do not have the skills required to correctly interpret x-ray images and operate x-ray machines. For example, they cannot identify the differences between real and toy handguns
e.The employees act using an informal procedure developed in the “field” as a result of missing parts in the formal one
f.There is a lack of coordination between the security personnel at check points and the police personnel in Airports. As both bodies are located in different areas and are subjected to different authorities, they tend to act independently
g.Due to the high percentage of turnover among security personnel, many of the employees are novices and will, when faced by a dilemma, follow a natural tendency and consult with their seniors before making a decision. One of the main reasons found for this was the lack of confidence, procedural knowledge, and skills in detection due to lack of training.
A field research conducted in a anumber of European airports by BEMOSA (Behaviour Modelling for Security in Airports, lead & co-ordinated by Prof.A.Kirschenbaum), examined the reactions and performance of screeners in similar situations outlined in this article.
After preliminary analysis of the data, the researchers indicated that the employees were hesitant and, rather than following written procedures, tended to consult with colleagues before making a decision. One of the main reasons found for this was a lack of confidence, procedural knowledge and skills in detection due to a lack of training.
What can be done in order to change the employees’ attitudes towards the procedures and ensure they act upon them, make decisions based on knowledge and professional skill within a reasonable time?
The possible explanations for hesitancy listed above show that the problem is an outcome of the organisational structure, the diffusion of responsibilities, the operational pressure, many “grey areas” in the procedures and, as the ‘BEMOSA’ researchers also indicated, deficiency in professional skills through a lack of training.
Although it is essential to pay attention to all these aspects, I would like to focus on training and what is possible and should be expected from it. First of all, it should be clarified that the training aspect must deal with several objectives simultaneously, each requiring its own tools and instruction techniques in order to achieve effective results.
The following are examples of the basic elements required to create a training program for security personnel:
Objective: Improving screening machine operation skill and detecting problematic objects and weapons
a.Using a training and testing x-ray simulator
In order to achieve results it is necessary to create training sets that get progressively harder as screeners improve their detection skills. The difficulty of the training should be based on the type of threat required for detection, its angle, how it is concealed, other distracting elements within the bag and the required speed of detection. Frequency of training sets should be fixed. The more the employee will experience the simulator, the more he will improve his detection skills, confidence and decision making skills.
b.Personal remedial instruction
Continuous analysis of each employee’s performance on the training simulator should be carried out to identify their weaknesses and rectify them. For example, if an employee’s detection rate for I.E.D. is lower than average, they should be given personal and customised training that deals specifically with I.E.D.
Objective: Improving the implementation of procedures
a.Performance skill inspection- (usually once a year)
Visual observation should be carried out to evaluate each employee’s general actions and assess their level of performance when operating screening machines, making decisions, dealing with passengers and communicating with colleagues. At the end of the inspection they should get feedback on their performance.
Objective: Maintaining alertness and checking performance level in real time
Employees must pass an unexpected drill in order to ensure that their performance on the job is similar to their performance on the simulator and during their performance skill inspection.
Drills work by reinforcing alertness and serve as a means for drawing conclusions. Unlike the simulator, which only examines the detection skills and decision making required for the first phase, the drill enables supervisors to examine the whole process including the search procedure.
Objective: Developing attitude
Seminars should be organised in order to emphasise to employees the importance of quick and reliable reports, personal responsibility to high alertness, determination not to give up in cases of doubts and dilemmas and the importance of passenger service. In these seminars, all employees should be given role-playing exercises and experience simulations of events in which they are required to use their problem solving skills and make critical decisions.
It is also possible to create simulations and trainings by computer (CBT) although it is less effective due to a lack of the interaction required for effectively assimilating attitudes
c.Drills & Performance skill inspections
Expected attitudes are also developed from personal interaction and feedback from drills and performance skill inspections
Objective: Shortening proficiency training and qualification period
a.On the job training and qualification process.
After basic training, employees require personal tutoring. This should be carried out by a senior employee who has gone through training to become a personal tutor
b.Using the simulator as a part of the tutoring process and as a skill enhancement after qualification.
Supplemental training for new employees, shortly after qualification, that focuses on problem solving.
Maintaining a successful training program & monitoring employee performance
For a training program to be successfully maintained it is important that instructors are able to monitor their employees’ performance, identify weaknesses and implement strategies to rectify them.
Monitoring systems, such as OpeReady, provide instant feedback to instructors as to whether their employees have completed the training components assigned to them and achieved the performance level required. Instructors are then able to push any low performers to priority and provide remedial training immediately.
It is clear that implementing such a training procedure would entail significant costs. However, the investment would be paid back by significant reductions in false alarms, the improvements in security, faster passenger flow and improved customer satisfaction.
While a training program will significantly improve many aspects of the security process, it must be emphasised that, if provided on its own, it will not achieve all the organisational objectives. “Grey parts” within the procedures must be clarified, organisational structure must be examined and made more effective and coordination between the different authorities in charge of security must be improved.