Airport Security: When it Comes to Employees, Metal Detectors Are the Problem

By: Bill McAteer

The aviation security community has always been proactive and innovative with the introduction of new security technologies, policies and strategies. Whether its revamping screening processes for carry-on bags or drones for perimeter security, adoption rates for new technology aimed at thwarting threats has always been a consistent focus the aviation community. Yet there is one area of airport security that remains unsolved – insider employee threats.

While the vast majority of airport employees are not threats, out of the estimated 1 million employees working in airports nationwide, it’s hard to overstate the importance of the need to protect against the insider threat. Especially with the steady uptick in insider threat incidents in recent years, A few examples include a baggage handler for Hartsfield-Jackson that was sentenced for gun smuggling, nine Dallas airport employees that admitted they plotted to smuggle drugs, weapons and plastic explosives, and a Horizon Air worker who stole and flew a commercial aircraft over the Seattle area.

Employees and Passengers Are Not the Same 

Unfortunately, the solution is not as simple as applying the passenger screening process to employees. While passengers plan to arrive hours before their flight to account for the expected airport security lines, it is unfair to expect the same scenario out of employees.

When shift changes occur, hundreds and in some cases, thousands of airport workers enter the airport at once. Forcing those individuals to undergo the slow-moving and single-file screening process that is required of passengers would inevitably prevent employees from getting to their posts at their scheduled start time, thus causing flight delays, which can negatively impact passenger satisfaction and airline finances.

Metal Detectors Are Part of the Problem 

These differences in screening scenarios shine light on the severe limitations of using metal detectors in the screening process.  

The technology in metal detectors is designed to detect only metal and is unable to differentiate between other everyday metallic items, such as cell phones or belt buckles. Because of this, individuals are asked to stop and divest of personal belongings, which inevitably creates delays and long lines. Further, when guards repeatedly find that the detectors’ alarms are due to those everyday items and not weapons, they become desensitized and inadvertently less effective in the screening process.

Despite this being the norm for passenger screening, this process cannot keep up with the demands of employee screening.  

Revamping the Employee Screening Process

With these significant limitations and challenges in mind, consider looking to replace antiquated screening solutions with more advanced technologies that leverage Artificial Intelligence (AI), and utilize advanced scanners, or even biometric capabilities.

If you do choose to onboard new technologies, ensure they meet the following capabilities to best protect against insider threats and improve the employee screening process:

  • Speed 

    Because airport shift changes can include up to thousands of employees at once, it’s important that your next screening solution quickly and efficiently move individuals through without sacrificing security.

    To do this, look for screening solutions that don’t require individuals to pause, pose, or divest of personal items. Technology that allows individuals to walk through with ease will best prevent bottlenecks, and ensure employees get to their stations on time.
  • Accuracy 

    Today’s threats extend far beyond the limits of metal, with bombs and other non-metallic weapons increasing in popularity every day.

    To ensure modern threats do not go unnoticed, your next screening solution should be able to identify several types of weapons, as well as differentiate between a gun, toy, or cell phone. With advanced intelligent detection capabilities, security guards are better-informed of potential threats and can take quicker and more precise action to deter an attack to stay “left of bang.”
  • Flexibility

    Implementing a rigid and predictable screening process can unfortunately create opportunities for people to use it against the venue that’s trying to stay protected.

    The ability to deploy screening solutions anywhere at any time creates an element of surprise and significantly limits the insider threat. Airports should look for flexible solutions that are self-contained and easy to move so that security checkpoints can be deployed on a whim. 

We can expect to see the insider threat problem proliferate across U.S. airports and beyond. To get ahead of this growing problem, consider reevaluating your employee screening process, educating yourself on the problem and identifying innovative solutions to address the ever-growing insider threat. An added benefit? Creating a no-hassle screening process for your employees can significantly impact job satisfaction and ultimately help with retaining employees.

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