Security At What Cost?


Security At What Cost?

Michelle Garetson suggests that the diversity of technologies designed to improve aviation security all require one common element for success — the human factor

By Michelle Garetson

February 2002

Addressing the Aviation Security Technology Symposium in November 2001, Federal Aviation Administrator, Jane Garvey ended her speech by saying, "We need to exploit technology. We need to improve security. We need to do it now. And we will."

She cited the need for further development in explosive detection capabilities and biometrics -including iris scanning, hand geometry, and facial recognition systems — into airport security systems. Garvey reported that a working group, co-chaired by the Department of Defense Counterdrug Technology Development Program Office, identified four areas in which mature and proven biometrics can be used to improve aviation security:

  1. Employee identity verification and access authorization to secured areas within an airport.
  2. Protection of airport public areas through surveillance.
  3. Passenger protection and identity verification.
  4. Air crew identity verification.

What she didn't discuss was security personnel development.

Her command to the audience that "...we must be ever mindful of the importance of the human element. Vigilance. Competence. Leadership. Technology cannot be a substitute for these critical and fundamental elements of effective security," in no way suggests the necessity for personnel to have the technical training to operate the security hardware, as well as the interpersonal relations training in order to interact, and in some cases, intervene, with people at the airport and on the ramp. Apparently, the Administrator only requires vigilance, competence, and leadership for consideration. Unfortunately, these traits are subjective and open to interpretation, which would be difficult to quantify into a salary figure.

For the amounts of money being spent on the incredible machinery - the Federal Aviation Administration estimates that it will need 2,000 to 2,100 of the $1 million machines installed at 453 airports to meet the December 31, 2002 deadline that requires that all checked luggage be screened by explosive-detection machines; a disproportionate amount is being spent on training and wages for the operators.

It's very easy to spend money on physical plant items, but these technological marvels don't run themselves. The more difficult task is to select, implement, and maintain a well-trained staff. Offering competitive salaries is certainly one way to draw interest to the post, but it isn't the only thing that will keep turnover rates down. Employees also need to have the respect and support of the employer. This is true in any career, not just aviation.

While most of the rhetoric involves security inside the terminal, what's being done for those outside on the ramp?

The ramp area is a big, open space with varied activity throughout the day and night, offering relatively easy access for those with criminal intent.

Add to this mix, the diversity of cargo and baggage found on the ramp and 100 percent screening becomes a near impossible task once the cargo reaches the airport. Live animals, perishable items, as well as emergency medical shipments need special consideration and immediate attention, not a lengthy screening process. It will still take people, not machines, to process these goods.

Since September 11, airports worldwide have been looking for security solutions. El Al Israel Airlines has been deemed the poster child for aviation security with its unique approach to protecting its assets and crew in a volatile environment. They have, for quite a while, used bomb detection equipment to screen freight. In October 2001, The Boeing Company signed a memorandum of understanding with El Al Israel Airlines to study the feasibility of creating a joint venture to establish a security and safety business for airlines, airports and governments worldwide. The joint venture, if formed, could include developing technology, manufacturing products, designing systems and procedures, and training personnel and staffing.

Really, what it boils down to is that everyone at the airport, on the ramp, at the curb, and in the terminal, is responsible for aviation
security. Machines can't do it alone and bomb-sniffing dogs need handlers to get them to the cargo and baggage.

The true cost of aviation security will probably never be determined, as it is impossible to quantify an incident that was prevented. The human factor is the most important element in aviation security and is therefore, priceless.