Posts tagged ‘airport security’

Great Moments in Government Process Innovation

I have noticed recently that the TSA has created split lines at many airport security screening posts - one for experienced travelers and one for "casual" travelers - i.e. noobs.

I have no problem with the basic idea.  Long ago I began advocating special lines for public electronic devices (airport boarding pass machines, supermarket self-checkout, ATM's) for people with IQ's over 90 because I always seemed to get behind the person who had never even seen a keyboard in their life.

But the actual execution of this concept in airports is laughable.  In the last 4 airports I have been in, the split between passengers who know what they are doing and those who don't is only through the screener who checks ID.  Even the lamest travel noobs are generally able to cough up an ID and boarding pass without too much trouble (though I will say I always seem to get behind the guy traveling on some bizarre 1930's-era League of Nations passport that seems to take forever to process).  However, after this ID screening the two lines come back together and everyone is mixed again.  Just in time to hit the x-ray screening station, where inexperienced travelers can hold up the line for hours.

Good News at the TSA

Via Popehat:

The new rules, issued in September and October, tell officers "screening may not be conducted to detect evidence of crimes unrelated to transportation security" and that large amounts of cash don't qualify as suspicious for purposes of safety.

NFL players - its safe now to carry your Whizzinator.

Security Theater

Anyone who flies regularly and has not thought of at least five ways they could easily beat airport security isn't really trying.  Jeffrey Goldberg actually tries a few:

Suspicious that the measures put in place after the attacks of September 11 to prevent further such attacks are almost entirely for show"”security theater is the term of art"”I have for some time now been testing, in modest ways, their effectiveness. Because the TSA's security regimen seems to be mainly thing-based"”most of its 44,500 airport officers are assigned to truffle through carry-on bags for things like guns, bombs, three-ounce tubes of anthrax, Crest toothpaste, nail clippers, Snapple, and so on"”I focused my efforts on bringing bad things through security in many different airports, primarily my home airport, Washington's Reagan National, the one situated approximately 17 feet from the Pentagon, but also in Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Chicago, and at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport...

Schnei­er and I walked to the security checkpoint. "Counter­terrorism in the airport is a show designed to make people feel better," he said. "Only two things have made flying safer: the reinforcement of cockpit doors, and the fact that passengers know now to resist hijackers." This assumes, of course, that al-Qaeda will target airplanes for hijacking, or target aviation at all. "We defend against what the terrorists did last week," Schnei­er said. He believes that the country would be just as safe as it is today if airport security were rolled back to pre-9/11
levels. "Spend the rest of your money on intelligence, investigations, and emergency response."

Though I have to give props to the TSA for supporting first Amendment rights, I am not sure their concern over free speech and privacy was driving this encounter:

On another occasion, at LaGuardia, in New York, the
transportation-security officer in charge of my secondary screening
emptied my carry-on bag of nearly everything it contained, including a
yellow, three-foot-by-four-foot Hezbollah flag, purchased at a
Hezbollah gift shop in south Lebanon. The flag features, as its
charming main image, an upraised fist clutching an AK-47 automatic
rifle. Atop the rifle is a line of Arabic writing that reads Then surely the party of God are they who will be triumphant.
The officer took the flag and spread it out on the inspection table.
She finished her inspection, gave me back my flag, and told me I could
go. I said, "That's a Hezbollah flag." She said, "Uh-huh." Not "Uh-huh,
I've been trained to recognize the symbols of anti-American terror
groups, but after careful inspection of your physical person, your
behavior, and your last name, I've come to the conclusion that you are
not a Bekaa Valley"“trained threat to the United States commercial
aviation system," but "Uh-huh, I'm going on break, why are you talking
to me?"

It turns out, incredibly, that most airport employees are not screened.  Because, you know, it would be grossly unfair to subject airport staff to the same sort of time-wasting indignities to which we all must acquiesce.  Also, many commercial flights have a belly-full of US mail which I am pretty sure is not inspected in any way.

First Flight of the Summer

Well, it's my first airline flight of the summer, and, as usual, I have forgotten how awful it is to fly between Memorial Day and Labor Day.  And it is not just the crowds.  I hate to sound overly misanthropic, but summer is when all the folks who have never been on an airplane show up at the security station right in front of me.  It is amazing how long a family of four who has no clue how airport security works can hold up an X-ray line.  Of course, this being the vacation season government employees, capacity actually was lower today (fewer X-ray lines open) to meet the higher demand.

Update: Perfect weather in Phoenix and at my destination in Denver.  So of course we have a 2-hour air traffic hold.

The Government Disaster Monopoly

I have written a number of times that one of the problems with the Katrina aftermath was not that the federal government did too little, but that they try to do too much.  For example:

While turning down offers to help, when everyone agrees not enough
is being done, may seem unthinkable, these are actually predictable
outcomes from a [government] bureaucracy of technocrats.  Technocrats value process
over results, order and predictability over achievement.  More
important than having problems fixed is having an ordered process,
having everything and everyone under control.  In this context, you can
imagine their revulsion at the thought of having private citizens
running around on their own in the disaster area trying to help
people.  We don't know where they are!  We don't know what they are
doing!  They are not part of our process!  Its too chaotic! Its not
under control!

Nearly everyone who is in government has a technocratic impulse -
after all, if they believed that bottom up efforts by private citizens
working on their own was the way to get things done, they would not be
in government trying to override those efforts.  But most emergency
organizations are off the scale in this regard.  99% of their time,
they don't actually have an emergency to deal with - they are
planning.  They are creating elaborate logistics plans and procedures
and deployment plans.  Planners, rather than people of action,
gravitate to these organizations.  So, once a disaster really hits, the
planners run around in circles, hit by the dual problem of 1) their
beautiful plans are now obsolete, since any good general can tell you
that no plan ever survives first contact with the enemy and 2) they are
by nature still planners, trying to get order and process underway and
create a new updated plan, rather than just getting every possible
resource out there fixing the dang problem.

Kerry Howley in Reason's Hit and Run discusses a similar problem in Southeast Asia in the aftermath of the deadly Tsunami:

A year and a half after the deadliest tsunami in recorded history, a
pan-Asian warning system seems about as likely as, say, competent
airport security stateside. So Sri Lankans have poured donations into
DIY monitoring stations, using the Web and volunteers to watch for quakes...

How do officials react to the exciting new world of distributed warning technology?

But the government does not want ad-hoc tsunami warning centres handing out advice to local communities.

"Only the Met Department is authorised to give tsunami warnings and
evacuation orders. They cannot do it. It is illegal. That creates
unnecessary panic," Darmaratne said.

Just as in the Katrina aftermath, the government answer is that we would rather have nothing happen than positive efforts occur that we don't control (or take credit for).