Scientists sometimes go to places that usually are not explored. In some cases this results in surprising findings. That is exactly what happened when they went to see what goes on in the back yard of European airports.
A study of European air terminals, conducted by the EU-funded Bemosa project, indicates a definite need to improve security decision- making processes.
The study proves that airport personnel do not rely primarily on procedures or rules in emergency cases.
The report contains the first results of an extensive study aimed at obtaining data on how emergencies and security threats are actually handled in airports. The results will be presented at a special workshop on applying human factors to airport security that will be hosted by Bemosa in Belgium on May 25, 2011.
Bemosa's experts concluded that there appeared to be a definite need to improve security decision-making procedures. This was reflected in the clearly observed problems of recognizing a threat and acting upon it.
The report indicates that there appears to be a gap between procedures and actual behaviour when a threat is recognized and especially when it is acted upon.
According to the study only 53.1% of airport employees and 63% of security workers said they put complete trust in security technologies. Only 23.6% of airport employees and 58% of security workers said that when they saw something suspicious they alerted others. A further 54.3% of the workers and 40% of security personal never raised the alarm or called a security code.
The study is aimed at describing real behaviour patterns in order to develop airport staff training programs for improving crisis handling and hazard reduction.
"There appears to be a gap between procedures and actual behaviour when a threat is recognized and especially when acted upon. It seems, that in such cases informal group behaviour is as important as formal procedures," says Professor Alan Kirschenbaum from the Technion in Israel, a world expert in disaster management and initiator and coordinator of Bemosa. "Cases in which procedures are not followed should not necessarily be viewed as a negative phenomenon."
Kirschenbaum adds that highly motivated security personnel show initiative and creativity in handling situations when procedures are not sufficient or relevant. He notes, however, that not following procedures is usually a result of lack of skills or training.
Bemosa (Behaviour Modelling for Security in Airports) is a European-wide research project aimed at improving security in airports through enhancing the capability of airport authority personnel to correctly detect potential security hazards and reduce false alarms.
Bemosa, which is co-funded by the European Union under the 7th Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development, develops a behaviour model that aims to describe how people make security decisions in the face of reality during "normal routine" and crisis situations. This is expected to result in increased security, reduced false alarms and increased profitability.