Partnering for Security

FirstLine Transportation Security has expanded its services in a federally dominated industry through the Screening Partnership Program.

Quality as a standard
Smedile says the construct of the contracts has provided private companies such as FirstLine with incentive to provide caliber services. “This is a cost-plus-performance award contract so you need to perform in order to earn your money,” he says. “That leads into accountability. There are a whole series of performance metrics that cover the gamut from financial to manpower management to customer service and a lot of other things that you need to perform. You need to measure up to those metrics; in fact, you need to exceed those metrics in order to earn your reward fees.”

Though the company has worked under TSA requirements and oversight, Smedile says the program has afforded room for innovation in terms of staffing. “Because you are a private company, then you can bring to the table the best practices of the industry,” he says. “There is that flexibility and innovation that figures into it. Probably one of the biggest things is the emphasis on customer service, which is a big piece of the accountability.”

A matter of satisfaction
Customer service has been an issue at the forefront of the industry.

FirstLine, which has more than 600 employees at its three locations, has striven for customer satisfaction through its employment procedures. “In the recruitment process and then in our initial training for all of our new-hire transportation security officers and in recurrent training, customer service has specific modules,” Smedile says. “It’s reinforced, daresay on a daily, constant basis. We want to be a positively contributing member of the airport community.”

Customer service has been included in the performance metrics of the SPP contract. “Those would include for example, wait time at check points,” Smedile says. “They also include customer responses, customer comments both positive and negative. If there is a negative, how promptly we respond to it.”

Kansas City International Airport was ranked No. 1 among medium-sized airports for overall passenger satisfaction in the 2007 North America Airport Satisfaction Study by J.D. Power and Associates. “The report itself and the airport acknowledged, recognized that security screening is a major driver of customer satisfaction,” Smedile says. “The airport says ‘one big reason why we got this award is because of the job you guys do for us here at the airport.’ That kind of validates what we’re trying to say and trying to do in terms of customer service.”

Smedile says FirstLine has worked to limit the “hassle factor” for passengers while maintaining optimum security. “There is no trade off,” he says. “You can have high levels of security and high levels of customer service as long as you keep training and emphasizing both.”

Slow to grow
FirstLine Transportation Security Inc. was formed after the acquisition of the management team of International Total Services Inc. — a company that had performed screening and airlines services around the US — by SMS Holdings in 2002. With its subsidiaries already providing facility management and security services in high-traffic establishments, SMS Holdings decided to venture into aviation. “We viewed aviation security as a growth industry over the long term,” Smedile says.

Growth within the program has been slow going. Though FirstLine has expanded its services to three airports through the federal program, Harmon says the expansion does not necessarily indicate an industry trend, as a fraction of the eligible airports have chosen to participate. “All commercial airports in the US have been eligible to apply for the SPP since November 2004,” she says. “Ten are currently participating in the program. TSA’s mission, mandate and fundamental role remains constant regardless of whether the screening work force is comprised of federal or private employees.”

The participation numbers were unexpected by FirstLine, Smedile says. “When this program was first made available nationwide, we thought that the response would be considerably different than it has turned out to be,” he says. “I think one of the reasons is that this is one of the many options that the TSA has in order to meet its security requirements, so there also has to have been a recognition from their perspective as well as ours how this program could be put to good use.”

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