Exclusive: Taking a 360-degree approach to security screening


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Joseph Osterman, Senior Vice President Aviation & Transportation at Prosegur Security USA reveals the latest security screening trends.

When people hear “security screening,” they typically think of TSA checkpoints at airports. X-ray machines, baggage screeners and metal detectors have become synonymous with the field. However, security screening encompasses so much more within transportation, including the screening of employees, checked baggage, cargo and any goods and services used not only in commercial air travel, but also in the rail and maritime industries, as well as the traditional screening of passengers.

The technological advances, particularly over the last 20 years, have propelled the security screening industry forward. However, there is still so much more growth and development necessary to combat the increasing number and complexity of possible threats. For example, a recent study reported that the security screening market was estimated to be worth US$7.5 billion in 2021 and is projected to reach US$10.1 billion by 2026. Research indicated that this dramatic budget increase was partly due to the increased threat of terrorist attacks, amongst other factors.   

In addition to the highly publicised incidents of Dawson’s Field hijackings, 9/11, the Madrid train bombing and the recent Kabul airport suicide bombing, that sparked much conversation and growth within this field, it’s also important for security professionals to focus on smaller, individual threats, carried out by one or two people, who are often not affiliated with a larger organisation. These actors may be motivated by a variety of personal reasons, including politics and even workplace tension.

Rather than targeting large, familiar venues, these individuals will target places that have not been previously exploited, may be smaller or demonstrate a vulnerability. Examples of these include the recent thefts from containerised rail cargo cars in Southern California and increased incidents at airports brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic travel rules and regulations.

Our goal as security professionals is to be aware of these various threats and ensure that our screening strategy remains effective and is flexible enough to evolve. To do so, security companies have pivoted and incorporated new technology into their screening measures while also evolving more classic imaging technologies such as x-ray machines. It all comes down to finding the correct balance between screening efficiency, passenger-friendly processes, continuous movement of traffic and goods and uncompromised safety for personnel and travellers.

However, as a general trend across the broad field of security screening, the community lacks intelligence on these smaller potential threats. So, how do security professionals address this deficit of intelligence gathering gap in order to create a more effective and comprehensive method of protecting citizens, personnel and assets? Here are a few key points to keep in mind as you work toward this goal. 

Take a comprehensive approach to security

It’s essential to take a 360-degree approach to security and risk assessment. Many companies are monocular in their focus, only specialising in one aspect of security. In transportation, our clients are large facilities with many moving parts and access points, so our team must look at their entire security footprint and develop an individualised plan based on where the threat or weaknesses may be. This includes implementing various technologies and reallocating personnel. But it also requires that these security assets be integrated and work in harmony to detect and deter those threats. For example, most recently, there’s been an uptick in rail theft from single and double-stack rail cars closely tied into the current supply chain crisis.

Due to a variety of in-transit issues, slow moving or stopped trains are left unmonitored with little surveillance and they become the target of criminals. A comprehensive security approach, including drone monitoring, changing the configuration of the cars, improving door bulkheads and the redeployment of security forces is necessary to decrease the risk of theft in this instance. 

Evolve the traditional security screening process

Current security screening measures are at times very mechanical and lack the intelligence-gathering tools needed for comprehensively assessing threats. We’re seeing a shift, led by TSA, for the deployment of more automated process at airports, including the next generation of advanced imaging technology and touchless automated photo identification scanners.

Through these devices, apps and internet technology, travellers will eventually be required to check-in before airport arrival and scan their ticket before heading through to the security x-ray screening area. This allows the physical workforce (TSA Officer, guards, security personnel, etc.) to shift their focus from document verification and other mechanical activities to surveillance and monitoring of persons, whether passengers, or others entering the airport or seaport who appear to be threats.

Embrace new technology to diversify security screening operations

Three popular tools companies are using to update security screening operations include remote monitoring devices, drones and drone intervention technology and updated scanning and imagining machines. Remote monitoring devices are a key force multiplier. They are mobile and can be outfitted with the latest technologies, such as infrared scanners, motion detectors and advanced communications applications.

These devices can be monitored in real time through Security Operations Centres and the Operations Centres at Airports and can provide not only uninterrupted surveillance, but also free up limited personnel security assets to focus on primary access points, while technology sensors monitor more remote or difficult to access areas.

Ultimately, the dynamics of the transportation industry have changed. Transportation is increasingly being shaped by anticipating, preventing or reacting to possible threats and the evolving technologies used to do so. As travel gradually returns to normal in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, it will be interesting to see if people are more at ease or if the anxiety surrounding travel persists.

Either way, the security screening industry has the opportunity to pivot into these necessary changes that will help close the intelligence gathering gap and approach security as a systems proposition rather than a collection of independent security countermeasures. With this newfound, ever-evolving intelligence, our community will be able to implement better security screening plans that protect personnel, passengers and assets in a more comprehensive and efficient way.

For more information, visit: www.prosegur.co.uk

This article was originally published in the March 2022 edition of International Security Journal. Pick up your FREE digital edition here.

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