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Coming in to land: EU project results put human element into airport security training

Airports are hubs of activity at the heart of modern life: infrastructures that handle the movement of people and goods 24 hours a day. And with governments increasingly apprehensive about the possibility of a terrorist attack occurring on their territory, investment in airpor...
Coming in to land: EU project results put human element into airport security training
Airports are hubs of activity at the heart of modern life: infrastructures that handle the movement of people and goods 24 hours a day. And with governments increasingly apprehensive about the possibility of a terrorist attack occurring on their territory, investment in airport security systems has increased exponentially in today's post-9/11 world.

But who is operating these systems and how do their decisions impact on operations in the airport? These were the central questions of the EU-funded BEMOSA ('Behavioural Modelling for Security in Airports') project, whose interim results were presented at a special workshop held at the European Commission in Brussels on 19 March.

From the project offset in 2009, BEMOSA, with EUR 3,399,934 of funding earmarked under the 'Transport' Theme of the EU's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), highlighted that although investment in additional technologies for airport security remains high, there exists a dearth of additional investment in training for the people who operate this technology.

The project partners, who hail from the Czech Republic, Greece, Italy, Israel, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Spain and the United Kingdom, carried out a large ethnographic study which involved observing the behaviour of security and non-security employees in four European airports and writing up script-like transcripts of the observed activities. The aim was to get to the heart of how staff makes decisions and how their judgements affect security in the whole airport.

The project left no stone unturned by studying all parts of the airport environment and not simply the security checkpoints, as project leader Professor Alan Kirschenbaum from Technion - Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa explains: 'Whether it is the cleaner who encounters a bag left on a luggage carousel or the police officers who patrol the airport, all staff is required to make a decision about what to do next.'

The results show that airport employees don't tend to make individual decisions and that they are rarely alone. However, despite these group patterns, training for security and non-security professionals is still carried out on an individual basis.

The team also found that when making an individual decision, employees tended not to follow the rules and regulations, yet when in a group they tended to be more compliant. Therefore, actual security behaviour may deviate from rules and regulations to adapt to specific situations.

However, Professor Kirschenbaum also points out that this is not always a bad thing. He says that often staff is required to 'show initiative and creativity to handle situations' for which the 'current procedures are not sufficient or relevant.'

Professor Kirschenbaum notes that the results suggest it is a good idea to place teams of two in bottlenecks and high impact situations and frequently rotate these teams. The results show that when people work in pairs they take turns at being the 'working one' and the 'idle one'. The 'idle' staff member acts as an extra pair of eyes free to scan the surrounding environment while the 'working' employee carries out the core function.

In-depth interviews with staff also revealed strong negative interaction with hierarchy and that colleagues with an equal status tended to interact more effectively with each other.

Researcher Simon van Dam, also from Technion, stressed that BEMOSA put a lot of emphasis on applied activity in the design stage of the project. This was important for showing airports the benefits of participating in the project.

The importance of applied research in security and transport projects was echoed by David Ryder from Airports Council International (ACI), the global trade representative for the world's airports. He said that many airports are often reluctant to get involved with projects that are too academic as they are sceptical about the value of the outcomes. He hailed BEMOSA for putting the focus on applied practical results: 'The more projects engage with end users, in this case the airports, the better. The very fact that BEMOSA put the emphasis on applied results saw take-up and interest in the project improve exceptionally.'

Simon van Dam adds: 'David at ACI was very helpful in advertising the project among his member airports, which led to the participation of 8 airports in the initial scoping stage.'

Now the BEMOSA project partners will use the findings from their extensive airport observations to put together an innovative and cost-effective training programme that will involve a predictive model of behaviour in real life crisis situations. The aim is to develop a training programme that blends current procedures with actual security behaviour.

Source: BEMOSA

Related information

Programmes

Countries (7)

  • Czech Republic, Greece, Spain, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, Slovakia
Record Number: 34420 / Last updated on: 2013-10-17
Category: Other
Provider: EC
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