Rethinking the security model

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In June 2015, David Stark of Marsh Risk Consulting wrote an interesting article concerning enterprise risk management (ERM) for Passenger Terminal Today. He provided the results of a risk survey conducted with European airports in 2014, identifying what airports considered to be their most important strategic and operational risks: “The top strategic risk [for airports]is the potential for a reduction in non-aeronautical revenue and the top operational risk is the possibility of a major incident at the airport or in the vicinity of the airport”.

Based on our experience at HCiWorld and recent research we conducted into security risks for screening operations in airports, we would actually propose that the top strategic risk facing airports today is the possibility of a major incident happening within their operational environment.

Considering both the continued attractiveness of civil aviation as a high-value target for terrorists and their capacities, as well as our vulnerabilities to such attacks and the severe consequences they would entail, this combination translates into a significant risk level that should be monitored by airports’ boards and executive committees. Furthermore, board members will want to ensure that the resource allocation for the security activities are actually delivering the sustainable outcome that is expected.

In recent years, through innovative technologies and the re-engineering of the passengers supply chain, we have attempted to find a new balance between security imperatives and passenger facilitation. But have we gone too far? How confident are we that our current model can effectively detect explosives and weapons at checkpoints?

It is important to remind ourselves that gains in expediency and facilitation are rendered worthless when we cannot effectively detect what we are expected to find.

Reassess the process

We at HCiWorld feel that it may be time to rethink the airport security model, to automate certain processes through advanced technologies, to reassess the ‘one size fits all’ regulatory regime for a risk-based approach, and to re-examine our security operational performance.

A lot of money is being spent to secure civil aviation. In the USA alone, this figure reaches US$8bn and it is about to exceed US$6bn in the EU. Are we getting our money’s worth? The results of ‘red teaming’ exercises (military and civilian teams that explore alternative futures and write articles as if they were foreign world leaders) in the USA, although anecdotal, certainly warrant further investigations.

Trying to find explosives and weapons at a security checkpoint is by no means easy. In fact, we challenge the reader to spend a day in a busy airport’s checkpoint to try to find the proverbial needle in the haystack, examining highly cluttered bags in a noisy environment, all the while striving to comply with regulatory requirements and service level standards.

What you should also know is that the probability for a screener to be confronted by an actual threat or a pseudo-threat (surreptitious testing or red teaming) could be as low as 0.001%. It has been demonstrated, through research, that the low prevalence of threat items has a significant impact on the screening officers’ performance and their capacity to detect a real threat when it presents itself during the screening process.

Combined approach

To manage this strategic risk, the industry should ideally reassess the capacity of the current screening equipment, review the standard operating procedures (SOP) and learn from known detection failures to improve human performance. This approach would benefit all parties, passengers included.

HCiWorld was happy to find out recently that computed tomography (CT) and advanced imaging technology (AIT) have been deployed at passenger checkpoints in some European airports. This will offer an opportunity to automate some of the more repetitive and risky screening tasks, thus improving detection effectiveness in a fairly expedient manner.

So having said this, can we have it all? Can we be both effective and efficient security at once? Our answer is yes!

We can use advanced technologies, risk-based standard operating procedures and engaged screeners to increase the detection performance, while delivering a courteous and respectful service to the passengers.

However, we believe that the priority of the screening operations should remain focused on detection performance. This doesn’t mean that we cannot also attain customer service standards, however, it may require additional resources and a more realistic expectation of what can be provided, based on available funding.

In the past 20 years, more than 300 attacks were directed against civil aviation around the world. Airports and airlines will continue to be targeted by terrorist organizations, as we sadly remembered last month in Belgium. Security, like service and safety, is a core corporate value and as such, it should be on the risk dashboard of airports’ boards and executive committees.

About the author

Yves Duguay, MBA, president and founder of HCiWorld, has developed unique experience in security (both private and public), including risk management, compliance, transportation and supply chains, as well as procurement and training. Duguay successively occupied senior positions at the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), Air Canada and more recently at the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) as senior vice president of screening operations and customer experience.

April 4, 2016

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