By Yeawon Yoo
How many people used TSA PreCheck to come to the INFORMS Annual Meeting? On Tuesday morning, we learned how the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) implements passenger screening, in a plenary titled, “Adopting a Risk-Based Approach to Passenger Screening” and opened the third day of the Annual Meeting. Ali Abbas from the University of Southern California introduced speaker Kenneth C. Fletcher. Ken is a president and CEO of Kestrel Hawk Consulting. Previously, Ken worked at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for 10 years. He received a graduate degree from Naval Postgraduate School. Following 23 years in the U.S. Navy, Ken went to Motorola as a quality manager.
Kenneth began his talk with the history of TSA aviation screening. With the 9/11 terror attack and Richard Reid’s shoe bomb attack, TSA implemented the current policy that requires shoes to be placed separately on the X-ray belt. After two Russian airliners were blown up in flight by female suicide bombers in 2004, TSA requires removal of outer jackets and improves pat-down procedures. This is the very first phase of the agency’s strategy.
The second phase started in 2006 after the liquid bomb plot was foiled. TSA took immediate action to remove all liquids from carry-on baggage. This was the start of the 3-1-1 policy. During the second phase, TSA is also trying to improve the performance of screening by adding additional layers to the existing security.
There were some motivating concerns to take the next step: 1) underlying assumption that nearly all passengers pose an unknown level of risk, 2) continuous change to procedures and technology in response to specific threats or incidents, 3) high level of threat uncertainty, and 4) the limited time Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) have to screen passengers and property.
Regarding the underwear bomb plot in December 2009, Ken said that even if the office tries to flawlessly implement a strategy, this type of the threat is hard to detect. TSA made a quick decision. They accelerated an advanced imaging technology deployment, and a pat-down process was enhanced. Ken also said, “TSA was really in crisis in 2010, and it was the most important inflection point to risk-based passenger screening.” He quoted Ron Paul, saying that “TSA is effective at violating our liberty, but it is ineffective at protecting our security,” and quoted John S. Pistole who said, “I particularly recognize that reasonable people can disagree as to what that proper balance or blend is between privacy and security and safety.” To overcome this matter, they implemented risk-based security based on the evaluation criteria in Ken’s research including security effectiveness, fiscal/political viability, operational efficiency, industry impact, passenger experience. He said, “Here we assume that the majority of airline passengers are low-risk. If we defocus on the low-risk people, we can convert our focus to the unknown-risk people. Now, they have more than 16 million people eligible to participate and over 60 U.S. and foreign air carriers participating in TSA Pre in 2018.”