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Study: Training, Group Dynamics Critical in Airport Security Decision-Making

04/13/2011 -Only a third of European airport staff report being trained to spot security threats, and only a quarter said they frequently alert authorities when they see suspicious activity, according to the first findings of a research project aimed at developing more effective security training programs.

The survey of European airport security and general staffs, conducted byBehavioral Modeling for Security in Airports(Bemosa), found that factors like group dynamics and work experiences may be as important as policy and procedures in the practice of airport security, according to an advance copy of the results provided to Security Management.

Around three quarters of respondents not only trust but seek their coworkers’ opinions in making critical decisions, but also seek them before taking action. About the same percentage said they feel confident taking charge of a situation when no manager is present.

Barely half of respondents—53 percent—affirmed that they put their “complete trust in security technologies.” The finding is significant as agencies like the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Administration (TSA) pursue increasingly sophisticated screening technology, driven in large part by officials’ desire to eliminate human errors from the aviation security equation.

Continued research will focus on the following issues, according to the new report:

1. Cases that procedures are not followed should not necessarily be viewed as either a negative or positive phenomenon. It seems that in some cases the current procedures are not sufficient or relevant and security personnel show initiative and creativity to handle the situation. However, it also seems that in some other cases procedures are sufficient and relevant and not following procedures are a result of lack in skills or training. Further research will shed more light on this issue.

2. Security personnel seem highly motivated. Thus, informal group behaviour during security threats can be described as an interactive process with personnel first consulting with their colleagues which is then reinforced by the willingness of colleagues to provide feedback. Such readiness to consult and willingness to provide advice may provide an interesting input for future training and may be incorporated in procedures as an initial step in responding to security threats.

Bemosa seeks to develop a formalbehavior model for security decision making to inform its final product: a new training regime for airport security and other personnel. The aim is to increase efficiency by maximizing threat detection while reducing false alarms.

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