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Aviation securityAirports personnel don't report suspicions, mistrust technology

Published 14 April 2011

An in-depth study of the behavior of security personnel at European air terminals, finds that only 23.6 percent of airport employees and 58 percent of security workers said that they alerted others when they saw something suspicious — and that 54.3 percent of the workers and 40 percent of security personal never raised the alarm or called a security code; only 53.1 percent of airport employees and 63 percent of security workers said they put complete trust in security technologies

Security officers at Hamburg Airport // Source: inmagine.com

 

In the United States, DHS has been aggressively promoting the “See Something, Say Something” slogan to encourage citizens to report suspicious people, behavior, or items left unattended. A new study of the behavior of European airport security personnel may lead some to conclude that many of those doing security work at Europe’s airports are guided by the slogan “See Something, Say Nothing.”

 

The first in-depth study of European airports, conducted by the EU-funded BEMOSA Consortium, finds that airport personnel do not rely primarily on procedures or rules in emergency cases.

The report contains the first results of an extensive study aimed at obtaining data on how emergencies and security threats are actually handled in airports. The results will be presented at a special workshop on applying human factors to airport security. The workshop will be hosted by BEMOSA in Belgium on 25 May 2011.

BEMOSA’s experts concluded that there appeared to be a definite need to improve security decision-making procedures. The need arises out of the observed problems of recognizing a threat and acting upon it.

The report says that there appears to be a gap between procedures and actual behavior when a threat is recognized — and especially when it is acted upon.

Key findings of the report:

  • Only 53.1 percent of airport employees and 63 percent of security workers said they put complete trust in security technologies.
  • Only 23.6 percent of airport employees and 58 percent of security workers said that they alerted others when they saw something suspicious.
  • 54.3 percent of the workers and 40 percent of security personal never raised the alarm or called a security code.

The study aims to describe real behavior patterns in order to develop airport staff training programs for improving crisis handling and hazard reduction.

 

There appears to be a gap between procedures and actual behavior when a threat is recognized and especially when acted upon. It seems, that in such cases informal group behavior is as important as formal procedures,” said Prof. Alan Kirschenbaum from the Technion in Israel, an expert in disaster management and initiator and coordinator of BEMOSA. “Cases in which procedures are not followed should not necessarily be viewed as a negative phenomenon.”

Kirschenbaum added that highly motivated security personnel show initiative and creativity in handling situations when procedures are not sufficient or relevant. He noted, however, that not following procedures was usually a result of lack of skills or training.

The BEMOSA Project (BEMOSA stands for Behavioral Modeling for Security in Airports) is a Europe-wide research project which aims to improve security in airports through enhancing the capability of airport authority personnel correctly to detect potential security hazards and reduce false alarms.

BEMOSA, which is co-funded by the European Union under the Seventh Framework Program for Research and Technological Development, develops a behavior model that aims to describe how people make security decisions in the face of reality during “normal routine” and crisis situations. The model is expected to result in increased security, reduced false alarms, and increased profitability.