Operator Based Training: A Key Factor

Alfred Fischer from STI explains why security training offers undiscovered potential and an efficient operation.

Michael Miller has worked for 28 years as a security guard at an international airport.  This experienced employee still remembers an embarrassing situation he had with an e-learning programme.  In order to renew his airport ID he participated in general security awareness training.  EU Ordinance 2320 and its associated regulations require a high level of security awareness, even for experienced personnel like Michael Miller.
Even after taking the test twice he was not able to answer all questions correctly.  He found it very difficult to remember important emergency numbers that had been changed, and to recall the revised evacuation procedures to be used if a bomb is found.
This example highlights how important it is to refresh one’s knowledge from time to time.  Things that are everyday practice for airline crews are often hardly touched on during an airport security person’s training.
Often investment decisions concentrate on procuring technical equipment or on rebuilding / extending checkpoints.  The industry has recorded a larger number of screening equipment orders on the books after attacks.  However, the training and education of security personnel is usually only a peripheral concern within contract offers.  Equipment manufacturers also reduce costs in the light of small budgets and tough competition when making offers.  There seems to be a general feeling of ‘we’d rather buy one more x-ray machine than one week of training’.
However, it’s common knowledge that even the best equipment is only as good and efficient as the training of its operators.  Even a state-of-the-art airliner won’t function properly unless its crew is trained properly, so why should anyone expect quality without training in other areas?  Practical tests carried out at an airport control point show that the number of passengers scanned only increases marginally when new x-ray equipment is installed.
A short period of personnel training doesn’t do enough as this usually means most of the time available is spent focusing upon passengers’ ‘negative behaviour’ and other important aspects of their task receive little attention.  In my opinion, it’s astonishing that airports can spend significant amounts of money on communication efforts, such as public awareness programmes, and security advisory/reminder campaigns, etc, in order to ‘educate’ passengers at the slowest, most congested checkpoints, but then try to minimize the costs of training its security staff.  Team oriented approaches, such as joining several checkpoints together to form a control cluster (recently tested successfully at Frankfurt Main), or continuous training on all aspects of their work, including how to deal with passengers, not only increase staff motivation but are also more effective at improving passenger flow than any communication campaigns.
Many operating companies and government agencies believe that control points should be managed in a centralized and hierarchical fashion.  However, tests show that decentralizing and granting individual screen operators more responsibility helps airports to develop their often untapped potential to increase passenger flow over the long run.  This approach needs to be delivered to staff via cyclic seminars covering customer orientation, leadership, motivation, etc and then ‘coached’ in everyday operations.
It will be essential to reflect on new employee-oriented approaches within aviation security in the future.  Even when the newest technology manufacturers make promises and airports are tempted to introduce such equipment, a new strategy at checkpoints should be considered.
It’s still the case that only one-off operator training is offered when new technology or a new type of equipment is installed.  But, it is essential to implement a complete training programme before putting new equipment into use and using training throughout the entire lifetime of the technology.
Trials at checkpoints have shown that the best screening personnel are not those who have been trained while operating the equipment.  Even experienced screeners or on-the-job trainers don’t perform as well on tests as those participating on ‘life time’ training programmes.
There are some airports that begin their staff preparation and certification on modern x-ray simulators with computer-based training months a period of time before new equipment is installed.  It has also been recognized that those staff members who did not receive training before hand were 30% slower in processing passengers than those who had gone through pre-installation training – partially due to the need for more hand checks.  One control group had a 45% failure rate in critical control situations compared to those with pre-operational training.
Dubai Success
The successful introduction of new x-ray machines at Dubai’s Terminal 3 is a good example of pre-implementation training programmes.  To date, more than 1,800 students have successfully passed the training programme to become certified screeners before starting operation at the new Terminal 3 at Dubai International Airport.
For basic and recurrent training of airport screeners, the Dubai Police entered into a comprehensive security training partnership with STI using their newest Operator Training System (OTS).  Dr Mohammad Saeed Dafoos Al Mansoori (Major Dafoos), Director of Dubai Avsec Center of Dubai Airport Police, described the effect of implementing a new type of security training by saying: “There has been a big change in our training methods due to the large number [of screeners] that can be trained with a new style of ‘complete knowledge’.
“Previously our training depended upon the experience of the employees, which had included many negative issues accumulated along the past years.  Before there was no classification system for operators.  We realize that with such training the potential of our screeners can be better judged.”
The key factor needed here is a co-ordinated training programme in co-operation with the equipment manufacturers.  A screener’s training should be focused more upon recognizing critical situations, rather than simply viewing a number of x-ray images.  Training scenarios are designed to select the right measure in practice, rather than just enabling screeners to recognize objects and click ‘OK’ or ‘Not OK’ on the screen.
According to some calculations, it only takes around €41 (US$58) spent on training costs per screen operator each year to provide staff with sufficient knowledge when implementing a new x-ray machine.  These same calculations say that this level of investment can improve the operational efficiency of a system by 30%.  As the screeners’ experience grows, these calculations predict that this expenditure can be reduced to €28 (US$40) for refresher courses in later years.  However, in both cases, these estimates take the use of intelligent e-learning systems as a prerequisite.  Calculations have shown that general security training for all ID carriers, depending on the size of the airport, would cost between €15 (US£21) and €45 (US$64) for e-learning to prepare all employees and bring them up to the currently required level of knowledge.
As an airport manager knows, the direct and indirect costs of a terminal evacuation in the case of a bomb threat are extremely high, and that alone should prove the worth of investing in an adequate training programme.  At least this training has been beneficial for Michael Miller.  He now knows all the important emergency numbers and also knows exactly what to do – and in what order – when faced with an emergency situation.
An interview with Major Dr Mohammad Saeed Dafoos Al Mansoori, Director of the Dubai Avsec Center of Dubai Airport Police: Dubai June 1, 2009.

STI: “What was the result after conducting the training with OTS?  Is there a significant improvement considering previous training methods, such as working with old CBT systems?”
Major Dafoos: “There has been a big change in our training method due to the large number [of screeners] that can be trained with a new style of ‘complete knowledge’.  During the year we have trained about 1,800 screeners and the demand for such training is increasing as it is not only limited to aviation security”
STI: What are the advantages of using OTS compared to classical instructor-lead training such as those using power point and on-the-job methods?”
Major Dafoos: “Previously our training depended upon the experience of the employees, which had included many negative issues accumulated along the past years.  However, the new system depends upon an international system that caters for training and transfer of knowledge in a way that qualifies personnel to work efficiently on the equipment.”
STI: Could we get some feedback how the new screeners are performing compared to existing ones?
Major Dafoos: “Before there was no classification system for operators.  Now, after OTS accreditation, operators can be classified according to the four levels certified in the programme.  Every employee has to pass the examination for the specified level or license.  The performance of new OTS classroom qualified screeners is better focused and more vigilant than those of our conventionally trained existing screeners.  We realise that with the new training, the potential of our screeners can be better judged.”