From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Airports Say No Jackets Required, But What About Human Factors?

Catching an airplane in the United States changes again today as passengers are now required to remove their coats, jackets and blazers for airport security in an attempt to add to the security systems already in place.

It’s part of a constant quest to improve airport security and close any holes in airport screening. But the real concern with airport security may be the system itself and its failure to fully address the human factors involved in its design.

According to Dr. Eric C. Neiderman, Program Manager for Human Factors at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), human factors are a key issue in the success or failure of airport security. In an interview with The Ergonomics ReportTM in 2003, Neiderman noted that the concerns focus on the current airport security system which was developed in the 1970s, the operator’s capabilities, how well the equipment fits human physical and cognitive capabilities, and the human-system effectiveness including issues like fatigue, deterrence, information management and how they all affect the performance of security personnel and organizations. In a nutshell, it’s a system that relies on human judgment, and that can sometimes leave it open to errors.

“The pros of relying on human judgment is that humans are good at detecting very subtle anomalies in the overall situation, [that] something just isn’t right, and can fuse information from many sources and sensors,” Neiderman told The Ergonomics ReportTM. “Also, because of some variability in operator performance, an adversary cannot predict or reverse engineer the response of the security system. This unknown factor makes the security system more robust.” But, Neiderman says, “Human judgment can [also] result in too much variability across operators and sites. . . .”

Experts on airport security like Dr. Douglas H. Harris, Chairman and Principal Scientist of Anacapa Sciences, Inc., believe that, overall, the current system could be greatly improved. In an interview with The Ergonomics ReportTM in July, 2003, Harris noted that delays, frustrations and inconsistencies also have roots in the human side of airport security. The problems, though, don’t lie within the workers themselves