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.

Oakland Airport deploys new screening tech to fight internal threats

Oakland Airport Hero

The following is an excerpt from an article by Travel Weekly’s Robert Silk. You can read the full article here

A new-generation screening machine is aiding in Oakland Airport’s quest to fend off insider threats from employees and airline staff.

Waltham, Mass.-based Evolv Technology piloted its Edge screening system in late 2017 before introducing it in Oakland last May. 

Unlike the security screeners that passengers are accustomed to at TSA checkpoints, the Edge system is able to detect bomb materials in addition to metal objects. Algorithm-powered artificial intelligence also enables the system to recognize ordinary objects that airport employees would be expected to be carrying, such as cellphones, wallets and keys. Another plus is that subjects can be scanned as they are walking. 

Subjects who set off an alert are quickly flagged red on digital graphic displays visible to security workers. The graphic also indicates the portion of the body where the suspicious item has been located. When a subject doesn’t set off an alert, the machine displays a green graphic. 

“The Evolv machine has really transformed our employee screening,” said Doug Mansel, Oakland Airport’s head of security. The system, he said, has functionality to allow for employees to walk through with purses and bags, but Oakland chooses to inspect those anyway, primarily to avoid false alerts that would slow down the screening process. However, employees can walk through the system with their phones and wallets. 

Mansel said the system is popular with employees because it removes the need for pat-downs.

“They’ve really helped us find this balance between security and throughput,” Mansel said of Evolv Technology. 

The full article is available here

Protect against insider threats with employee screening at airports

TSA Sickout Creates Opportunities to Improve Airport Security

Crowded Airport Terminal

By Bill McAteer, Account Executive at Evolv Technology –

Prior to the government shutdown being temporarily lifted, a TSA ‘sickout’ resulted in a disruption of service that had a direct impact on the security and experience of today’s travelers. This provides a good lesson on how we can shape the future of airport security.

Driven by the prospect of continuing to work without pay, more than 10 percent of TSA agents protested by holding a sickout. To compound matters, many TSA agents also chose to leave the industry entirely, finding new jobs during the shutdown.

The protests had a direct impact on security and the customer experience as the lack of screeners forced airports such as Miami International and Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport to shut down some screening areas, causing longer lines and longer delays.

Here’s the reality – the majority of travelers dread airport security as it is. The thought of long lines, combined with potentially invasive searches on them personally by TSA personnel, creates angst for many travelers.

But what this problem exposed is that our current model of airport security is broken. Security shouldn’t be beholden to workforce issues and performance concerns. Airports need to use this opportunity to modernize the infrastructure, their processes and the screening solutions supporting their security workforce.

In addition to existing checkpoints, technology such as advanced sensors, AI and biometrics can be deployed at the landside area of the airport to dramatically improve the customer experience of security, while improving security itself.

In this model, travelers walk through portable security gates before reaching terminal security. The advanced screening solutions can detect explosives and firearms in a rapid manner – without any of the false positives from items like keys, phone and belt buckles.  And, as threats evolve, solutions on the landside area of the airport become much more important.

These technologies have also proven incredibly effective in employee screening deployments at airports such as Oakland International.

In addition, advanced weapon and bomb protection improves security throughput dramatically – with fewer requirements for manual labor. This allows airports to allocate security personnel to where they can have the most visible and positive effect – and helps eliminate customer experience concerns caused by workforce issues.

There’s no doubt that TSA agents were in a difficult situation, being forced to work without pay. But this broader issue has shined a light on the ongoing security problem that airports struggle with. Advanced screening technology can be used in critical areas throughout an airport, helping balance security needs with the requirements to provide superior customer service.

Photo Credit: Floris Van Cauwelaert

Protect against insider threats with employee screening at airports

Biometrics To Improve Terminal Side Security And Employee Screening

Pilots in Cockpit

By Bill McAteer, Account Executive –

Innovations at airports have historically focused on one or both of the following primary factors: improving the customer experience, and securing passengers from ‘terminal to the plane.’

For example, the ‘Automated Screening Lane,’ originally proven to be successful in many European airports, have been widely adopted by U.S. airports in the past two years. In addition, new scanning technologies are making it possible to rapidly detect explosives, firearms and other weapons hidden on a person, without requiring them to remove layers.

On the customer experience front, more than 15 airports started testing and using biometrics to dramatically improve the customer experience. Airports are using advanced facial recognition to make it much easier for travelers to check-in at self-service kiosks, drop their luggage off at counters, and board planes – all without showing passports, IDs or other credentials.

While many airports are still in trial phases for these technologies, early results of reduced wait times and improved service levels are encouraging.

Despite these advancements, there has been little innovation in two critical areas: terminal-side security and employee screening to protect against the insider threat. Though some airports actively identify new technologies to improve these areas, many play a game of ‘wait and see’ to find out what the TSA will support or mandate.

Based on my experience, the airports that are proactive with their technology are the ones that set the future trends. When projects are successful, the TSA embraces those airports as models.

Security has traditionally been separate from the customer experience, but based on the early success of biometrics, we’ll see a big shift on this front in 2019. Airports will increasingly leverage successful customer technologies to improve their security apparatuses as well. This will set the trend for what airport security will look like for terminal side and employee screening in 2019 and beyond.

Here are two big ways we expect to see the combination of biometrics and security deployed this year.

Battling the Insider Threat – Improving Employee Screening

According to a recent economic impact study conducted for Airports Council International – North America, about 1.2 million people work at 485 commercial airports in the U.S.

In a risk-based security model, airport employees don’t require the same level of scrutiny as passengers, but they still need to be screened. Because there are no TSA mandates of physical screening for employees, many airports  deploy new security programs only after several noteworthy incidents have occurred, including the Horizon Air worker who stole and flew a commercial aircraft over the Seattle area, and the multiple arrests for various smuggling charges.

These incidents have put many aviation security veterans, including myself, on high alert and increased the possibility of a mass casualty act conducted by a disgruntled or radicalized employee. While many airports have added physical screening procedures for employees, the use of biometrics for employee screening for employee screening will start to explode in 2019.

Here’s why. Security and customer convenience are constantly at odds in traditional airports. Adding additional physical security procedures for employees can be cumbersome and cause delays for travelers because the employees are held-up at security checkpoints. This is why biometrics, combined with the power of new physical threat detection systems like Evolv Edge, will become the defacto standard for employee screening.

Customer Biometrics Provide Another Layer of Security

The early success of biometrics from a customer satisfaction standpoint will crossover to the security side as more airports employ biometrics at security checkpoints for another layer of security for passenger identification.

In fact, the TSA recently announced their roadmap for expanding the use of biometrics to improve passenger identify verification. This will be a departure from the current process of examining physical documents and processing biographical information on every traveler.

But, by adding biometrics scanners at security points like TSA Pre-Check, U.S. Customs and Border Protection points, and more, the TSA and the airports will be able to improve the customer experience, while strengthening their ability to verify each passenger.

These advances in technology will allow airports to treat security and the customer experience in the same way, while improving both at the same time. The combination of biometric identification, along with the ability to rapidly scan travelers for weapons and explosive materials without requiring them to take off layers of clothes, shoes, belts and more, will result in more secure, more convenient travel.

Protect against insider threats with employee screening at airports

Airports Moving Ahead On Secure-Area Employee Screening

Airport Baggage Handlers

By Bill McAteer, Account Executive at Evolv Technology –

On July 19, Eugene Harvey, a former baggage handler at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, was sentenced to 30 months in prison. His crime: smuggling 135 guns into an employee-only part of the airport, and then having a conspirator sneak them onto commercial flights in his carry-on bags.

He was caught nearly four years ago, but the incident continues to reverberate in aviation security circles. Though there have been other smuggling schemes by airport workers before and since, this one seemed to sound the wake-up call. Suddenly, U.S. Senators were calling for stricter federal regulations on airport worker screening. And, many aviation security veterans, including myself, were suddenly more alert to the potential for carnage by disgruntled or radicalized employees determined to smuggle in weapons for attacks either on flights or in the airport itself. Those concerns have translated into action. Several airports are planning on making major upgrades to fortify their “plane-side” perimeters. Just to be clear, I’m not talking about investment in more cyber-tools to analyze workers’ online history for clues. I’m talking about physical screening of real-world humans, to search for real-world weapons.

Making employees and contractors queue up like passengers just to get to work was unthinkable not long ago. Even when TSA was created after 9/11, it issued no mandates for employee screening. In the aftermath of Atlanta incident, several airports initiated physical screening of employees, searching for weapons as they entered their work areas (the secure/sterile areas of the airport). More recently, airports began using the FBI RapBack program, which will send real-time alerts to airports whenever an aviation worker is arrested, has a conviction of a crime or shows up on a terror list.

But the industry is moving at least as fast as Washington, and probably faster. Market leaders are pushing beyond mandates, and deploying, testing or just looking hard at solutions like ours. At the Global Security Exchange (GSX) conference in Vegas last month, I was impressed by the number of attendees that hung around for the last session of the day, to hear me and my  fellow panel-mates talk about “Aviation Lessons on Combating Insider Threat.”

I shouldn’t have been so surprised, airports are under the gun as never before to provide additional layers of security to include employee screening . Airports are sensitive and do not want to risk delays because employees were stuck at security checkpoints. And adding physical screening at major airports is a problem of massive scale. Half—yes, half— of visitors to U.S. airports each day are employees or contractors, according to former TSA director John Pistole and Evolv Technology advisor. More than 40,000 people work in secure areas at Hartsfield, alone.

From my travels, I see airports experimenting with a wide range of physical screening technologies and strategies. But some best practices are becoming apparent. Here a few:

  • Identity is crucial – Airports understand there is no one size fits all application for screening every worker. That would be inefficient and ineffective in both monetary and cultural terms. Asking employees to essentially extend their commute by standing in security queues to get to work isn’t advisable in our low unemployment economy. It’s far better to treat different types of employees according to their risk profile. New contractors with major holes in their work history and access to heavy equipment should be screened more often and more rigorously than long-time employees with office jobs. Time matters, too. A concessionaire that sells donuts and coffee to the morning shift every day should get closer scrutiny if they unexpectedly show up at a cocktail party for top executives.
  • Get random – While screening every employee would be safest, it’s not realistic or necessary. In fact, as much as we like selling Edge systems, we don’t recommend it. The important thing is that employees at least have the expectation that they may be screened at any time.
  • Training works – Nobody likes the thought of a potential terrorist or lone-wolf shooter in their midst. Research suggests that awareness training is effective. Every employee with a badge should receive training in areas relating to mass casualty events some areas to consider are behavioral recognition, a version of “run, hide, fight”, trauma first aid and other areas where they can help during an event.

Of course, nightmare scenarios will always be possible—and almost impossible to predict. I spent most of my career as a Commander with the Port of Seattle Police Department, and my heart went out to the security team at Seattle Tacoma International Airport when a deeply-troubled ground service worker hijacked a turboprop off the tarmac and took a joyride before crashing into an island in Puget Sound in August.

It may well be that there is no preventing such edge cases. But if there is any silver lining, it’s that this tragedy once again has the powers-that-be in Washington calling for federal regulation–and has industry executives looking for ways to keep their employees and facilities safe, while proving they can regulate themselves without onerous amounts of help.

Protect against insider threats with employee screening at airports

3 Ways Artificial Intelligence Will Impact The Airport

Train Terminal Header

Last week, a group of aviation leaders met in Silicon Valley in a forum orchestrated by AAAE to chart a course for the innovation and improvement of airports. I had the honor of joining leaders from Google X, Lyft, and Google Tango on a panel discussion in front of an audience of innovative Airport Directors, CIOs, and government leaders. We talked about strategies for harnessing artificial intelligence to improve the airport today. If you want more background on what modern artificial intelligence means, read this piece by The Economist.

As an airport operator, why should I care about artificial intelligence?
When your plane lands, a human alone does not decide which gate it should go to, just like it’s not a human that sets the price of your ticket. AI is already in the airport — but why does it matter to you as a professional? How does it help with your shrinking budget, and how will it enable you to confront the new threats and opportunities you will face in 2017 and beyond? How can it drive more intelligent utilization of your limited human resources and your infrastructure?

Here are my 3 takeaways from this unique “meeting of the minds” between airport leaders and technologists about where AI can take us in the near future:

Luke and C3P0

1. It’s about man AND machine, not man vs. machine.
In complex, real world environments such as airports, AI can’t do it alone. Today there is often a meaningful gap between what you need AI to do and what it can deliver. How can you tell when AI is falling short? If you are getting false alarms or seeing meaningless answers, you’re in gap territory. For example, try asking Siri a complex question. “Sorry, I didn’t get that.” Or try relying on video analytics to generate meaningful alerts in an airport environment. In both examples, AI is well equipped for about 80–95% of the task, and the remaining 5–20% ends up being your headache. What AI leaders at Google, Amazon, and the like have figured out is that when it comes to mission critical applications, you need a combination of AI and human judgment (“IQ”) in order to close the gap and get you across the goal line. For examples above:

  • Google Maps was built by using Google’s AI to find the streets and intersections in imagery but with Google’s “Team Ground Truth” (human IQ)to fill in the gap on tricky one-way streets and construction zones.
  • When you “smart scan” your receipts for creating an expense report using Expensify, AI can handle the crisp, clean ones, but human IQ is needed for those crumpled up ones that have been sitting in your pocket for hours at the conference.
  • Amazon embraces the AI + IQ formula so much that they created an entire platform for it called Mechanical Turk (which now has over 500,000 “Turkers” who earn a living on it doing “Human Intelligence Tasks” or HITs). Your product recommendations come to you courtesy of a system that is part human and part machine.
  • Evolv Technology is now leading an effort to bring this powerful AI + IQ formula to the physical security domain at airports and other facilities across the world.

So when it comes to AI systems for your complex environment, think about utilizing systems where human judgment gets you the last mile, so that your operators on the front lines don’t have to deal with the false alarms or brittleness of AI-only systems.

2. AI can be used to layer on additional insights, or it can be put to work to get rid of the noise. Start with the latter.
We as humans are tool users, but our layering on of technological tools over decades has caused us to become inundated with noise. We weren’t always flooded with information: From the earliest days of aviation through WW2 and until around 1980, we introduced technological advancements and managed to keep the noise level low. That changed in the 1980s, and now in 2016 we may be at “peak noise,” owing to the fact that we added technologies in an accretive way and caused the noise level rise and rise. If you added up all of the alerts your team receives from all of its tools, it would likely number in the hundreds per person per day. And all but a small sliver of them would be noise.

So what could the near future look like?

  • More black screen than multi-screen. Today’s “nerve centers” (e.g., the Security Operations Center) don’t do much for conservation of attention. How do you transition to a less noisy environment? Start by tallying up the noise your team receives today, and then put it into buckets based on the source and possible cause. That analysis will help guide your search for triage tools, as you can then look for AI that is able to tackle that category of false alarm.
  • The impact of one human staff member increases as the labor force becomes augmented and distributed. We heard a story about an airport in Leesburg, Virginia a couple of weeks ago that was doing a proof of concept for remotely provided air traffic control services. Imagine how powerful a distributed workforce that has AI triage tools at their disposal would be.

3. Embrace agile infrastructure and operations to be ready for the near future.
A challenge with which everyone in aviation is familiar: You do your best to pre-plan infrastructure to last 30+ years and then something happens that invalidates your plans. Fuel prices change and now your fleet of regional jets is no longer economical. A terrorist attack happens and now your checkpoint design is outdated. Uber and Lyft happen and now your parking plans seem uncertain. When you use brick and mortar decisions to drive outcomes, there’s little you can do to respond when you’ve poured your last footer on Christmas Eve and circumstances change. The aviation world has experienced many instances of short-term volatility, but these historical examples may be no match for the breakneck pace of change that will come in 2017 and beyond.

We’re entering into an area of exponential change, a term which means that advances are getting bigger and bigger and happening more and more quickly. It’s a hockey stick curve and it suggests some pretty intense things about our future. The kinds of unpredictable changes that made pre-planning tough before will become constant. So how do you deal with that?

  • Evaluate the use of subscription services for software (SaaS) as well as hardware (HaaS). Rent the technology and encourage the manufacturer to keep the updates coming continually, rather than buying a solution today waiting 5 years to purchase an upgrade to technology that became obsolete 4 years ago.
  • Seek out agile tools that work with your existing infrastructure and can be deployed and upgraded as your infrastructure is being upgraded. For hardware, this means portability and ease of installation. For software, this means compatibility with your existing systems.

The practical AI strategy for the airport of the near future
AI runs the consumer world, and in 2017 and beyond, it will have significant impact on the way you utilize your limited human resources and the effectiveness of your infrastructure and operations. The depth and intensity of the discussion at the AAAE Airport Innovation Forum highlighted the fact that the community is taking a proactive and pragmatic stance on bringing technology breakthroughs into the airport. Use these 3 key principles to launch your own world class, innovative strategy:

1. It’s about man AND machine, not man vs. machine.

2. AI can be used to layer on additional insights, or it can be put to work to get rid of the noise. Start with the latter.

3. Embrace agile infrastructure and operations to be ready for the near future.

The world is full of soft targets and we’re defining a new approach to protecting them

Header Image of People on Mezzanine

We are focused on the mission of keeping people safe. Here’s a quick look at how we see our challenge, our opportunity and our vision for the future of screening at soft targets around the globe.

A dynamic adversary
Another mass casualty event at yet another soft target. Riyadh, Bangladesh, Istanbul, Orlando, Brussels, Paris and San Bernardino.
Questions emerge: Were the terrorists lone wolves or known wolves? Were they inspired or directed? How can we improve protection? Should we push the perimeter out? Are we creating new soft targets with new checkpoints?.

We’ve spent the past three years talking with hundreds of professionals about securing their people and their facilities from active shooters and suicide bombers. These professionals provide protection to stadiums, transportation hubs, subways and rail, office buildings, special events, hotels and entertainment venues, military facilities, critical infrastructure such as chemical and nuclear facilities, and landmarks. They do this in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. The needs may differ among them, but their mission is the same: keep their people and places safe.

Defining a new approach
We have accumulated, synthesized and prioritized the needs of this global group of security professionals to define an entirely new approach to physical security. We have researched, evaluated, built and tested a wide range of sensors, software, and analytical approaches to detect the physical security threat. We have studied and analyzed the operational realities of keeping soft targets safe. We’ve looked outside the physical security industry for innovative approaches and technologies to bring to bear on the physical security mission.

Enter Evolv

One thing is crystal clear: We need to provide better security without disrupting people’s everyday pace of life.

This should be accomplished with the latest sensors, software, and analytics, combined to provide a seamless screening experience, letting the public easily pass through while trapping those intending to do us harm. Our product is emerging from development, none too soon to help protect the next set of soft targets.

Our Products

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The most effective security processes incorporate means to adjust sensitivity based on risk level. Our products enable risk-based adjustment as a core capability built into the technology. These adjustments can be made for a specific individual, location or time of day. Settings allow for different detection sensitivity and threat sets, based on intelligence, site-specific factors or a randomness protocol.

Our technology is designed to enhance the look of your location, not detract from it. Products are easily deployed at access points, lobbies, and entrance ways with little to no infrastructure modifications. Our design approach is to minimize the impact on your location by carefully designing the product and the ways it can be used.

Randomness is an important component in an effective security protocol to counter surveillance activities or to disrupt planned operations. Our screening products can be rapidly relocated and set-up to enable unpredictable screening at different locations throughout your facility.

Man Walking Through Evolv Scanner

Today’s security environment demands multiple layers, both visible and discreet. Results are typically fused at a command center, providing a more complete picture of the security situation. Our products improve situational awareness by inserting real-time multi-sensor data into the overall picture. In addition to providing screening results at the unit and to the command center, real-time information can be served to mobile security officers or others connected to the operation.

  • Real-time video surveillance
  • Facial recognition and known wolf matching
  • Firearm and explosive detection

We have designed our products from the ground up to detect and prevent threats that can cause mass causalities. From sensors to software to networking, they are focused on keeping your people safe while allowing free flow and movement. We use a combination of sensors, built on active millimeter wave, that inform automated detection algorithms to provide a fully automated ‘red light’ or ‘green light’ decision. Detection settings can be adjusted based on the latest threat level. Evolv products are designed for high detection rates with minimal false alarms, to focus on the threats and minimize the impact on your visitors.