Security Screening: improving human performance for greater reliability

In an article published in Aviation Security International last June, I wrote that the security checkpoint is where commercial and security interests can merge to benefit operators, passengers and screeners. I suggested as well that planning and investing in the design of checkpoints, applying innovative queuing techniques, valuing the time passengers spend waiting and offering security services with aptly recruited and trained personnel, is a source of value creation that has not yet been fully exploited.

Rest assured, I have not changed my mind and, if anything, I am more convinced than ever! Moreover I am encouraged by the innovative designs and security solutions that have since been tested and deployed in some of our larger airports, including technologies that improve the detection capacities of the screening equipment.

At trade shows and conferences, our industry continues promoting innovation as a means to improving the passenger experience and, indeed, we should be as concerned with the passenger experience as we are with the reliability of the screening process.

As we transform security checkpoints with those innovations, we may want to pause and reflect, to ensure that we are not deviating from the screening mission and to validate that our services effectively deliver the level of reliability we expect from this security layer.

Innovation can extend beyond technology; it can apply to people and procedures, especially when it comes to detection reliability. In fact, security screening is a process that requires an effective and efficient alignment of people, procedures and equipment, where technology provides the tools that assist screeners in detecting threat items. However, improvements in technology won’t necessarily increase detection if we are plagued by errors and incidents.

Researchers in the United States who investigated the causes of errors have discovered, “that about 80 percent of all events are attributed to human error. In some industries, this number is closer to 90 percent. Roughly 20 percent of events involve equipment failures. When the 80 percent human error is broken down further, it reveals that the majority of errors associated with events stem from latent organisational weaknesses, whereas about 30 percent are caused by the individual worker touching the equipment and systems in the facility.”

Screening authorities and providers can improve the detection reliability of screening services, by promoting the reporting and analysis of incidents and errors, to identify the systemic causes behind most screening errors.

Organisations can use the findings of such analysis to share performance feedback with its workers, increasing their awareness and explaining as well the occurrence of error precursors: “Error precursors are unfavourable prior conditions at the job site that increase the probability for error during a specific action; that is, error-likely situations. An error-likely situation, an error about to happen, typically exists when the demands of the task exceed the capabilities of the individual or when work conditions aggravate the limitations of human nature. Error-likely situations are also known as error traps.” Sharing information about failures and learning from errors are some of the best practices found in High Reliability Organisations (HROs).

Examples of error precursors:
HROs pay a lot of attention to errors: why they are taking place and how they can be avoided. “Perhaps the most important distinguishing feature of high reliability organisations is their collective preoccupation with the possibility of failure.

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