Even with fictitious math, the difficulty of managing consistent staff behaviors across all national US airports purely due to geographical distribution and staff sizes, lines of security and passengers is very large and challenging. When we have one person or three people, outlining and auditing against a defined process and procedure is starkly more achievable than when we have 9,000 staff distributed across 1,000 airport locations managing 5,000,000 passengers and associative luggage. How do we maintain operational consistency in geographically distributed staff under variable circumstances, audit against standard and evolve the individual and/or larger system in real-time? With people involved, we don't. We need further utilization of unimposing technology to get from where we are to where we need to go -- increased security without imposition or violation of human liberties and sensibilities. We already know how to do it.
In data-centers we leverage retinal, facial and fingerprint scanners, physical assessment, identification exchange, man-traps, cameras and more dependent upon the class and purpose of the installation. In airports we primarily leverage people dependent processes including queues, physical inspection and minimal technical solutions comparatively. We do very well at people movement. However, we are poor at integrating unobtrusive security methodology into people movement. We have options and should explore, implement and evolve them with haste. The problem isn't technologically difficult to solve, it is more likely political.
Consider that an airport building is a fixed perimeter. As such, there are fixed numbers (non-variable) of:
- points of foot, wheeled, winged and rail entry
- points of foot, wheeled, winged and rail exit
- waiting/resting areas
- methods of transportation
- physical check-in queue points
Rather than using funnels (choke-points) to facilitate security in a central place, our approach needs to employ technology more aggressively in a multi-point, multi-method approach which is natural to people movement and behaviors. Conform the system to the natural behaviors of people. Do not conform people to the requirements of a system, let alone an immature system. For example, we need to move from bottle-neck queues with highly organic physical inspection processes to the elimination of queues and physical inspection staff, as well as, dynamic, technical multi-point recognition systems. No more lines. No more physical touching. No need for Barney as a first-line of security. Barney will handle exceptions, the technology will handle the majority of effort.
Examples of this technology maturity employed include:
- fingerprint and hand scanners
- facial recognition software
- retinal scanners
- voice recognition
- physical form assessors
- hive-mind security robots
- dynamic traffic mapping (history, projected destination)
- open-stack cloud computing
Let's explore a fictitious (but could be very real) example of this technology implemented.
As I drive onto airport property, my car make, model, license tags and VIN are noticed by ground level cameras, validated against a database and it is immediately known that my vehicle entered the premises. The airport database would have received the data for pattern-matching against my own state's driver's license database. My car goes through several points where excellent lighting, whether natural or artificial, illuminates my interior making it easier for cameras on both sides of the road at sitting-passenger/drive height to see and scan my face. Again, this facial recognition data pattern is matched against that which was taken by the Department of Transportation which would include facial features and retinal characteristics. Assuming I had previously attained reservations for airplane travel to another destination, these camera and database checks would be the first on-ground system-utilized notifications telling the airline that I'm potentially arriving in preparation for said reservation.
As I traverse the parking deck, my face is checked multiple times as is my voice in the event I speak to someone at the point of entrance, though it wouldn't be a requirement to stop and/or speak at all. As I then step into an elevator, tram or bus to move to the airport facility where my face is more usably lit, my face is again observed, as are my retinas and my body type to match the face with eyes with a body in the database. And where did they get copies of my voice? Well, of course my voice mail messages with cell phone providers, videos on YouTube, Vimeo and my blog. What we currently don't have is a physical copy of my body type other than that which may be culled from online videos, photography albums like Picasa, Flickr and Shutterfly, so this may need some modification across time of course. It won't be long. The more times I'm in public, the more times my physical form will be scanned and logged against my identifying characteristics record with acceptable variability in form averaged across time. Getting physical form could also be gleaned from security cameras used at malls, convention centers and sporting events. We're already on cameras. It is only a matter of time until such camera viewing centralized into a query-able, pattern-matching database (legally).
Every time I walk through a door, I walk through a scanner at natural pace. I need not stop, raise my arms or spin around. I need only walk. If the scanner senses anything considered out of the ordinary, say metal in the body, external heart monitors and the like, it logs the event and matches the observation up against any known health record details contained in cloud-based and/or private network databases in the health management system du jour. And any time I walk through a door that requires me to open it, the handle scans my hand and fingerprints matching them against known records in the central database. Were I to be in a tram where I hold onto a vertical bar, yet again scanned. Bus? Scanner. For many companies, background checks require finger and hand-prints as part of the screening process. So it isn't a stretch of the imagination to capture them in public and match them against known official records held somewhere else in-country. So far then, I've already had my hands, fingers, face, voice, body and potentially my mode of transportation logged surreptitiously and without being touched by anyone and I've not even entered the airport lobby.
As I enter the airport I encounter a place asking for my baggage. I look into a camera while following directions on a touch-free screen asking me to speak my name, scan my passport or ID, verbally identify the airline reservation number and final destination. Which pieces of required data to be selected on the screen versus spoken versus scanned is a changeable combinatorial such that the process is not easily predictable per passenger. After my identity is validated against already collected data during my traversal into the airport, as well as, data logged for the earlier made reservation and other central database elements, the RFID tags in my bags are updated by the computer and I put them on the conveyor belt to go through a rigorous set of techno-mechanical inspections including scales, laser-based measurement systems, sniffers, dry and wet swabbing and various x-ray and thermal imagery. If a bag is suspect it is treated as an exception and runs through a more intense battery of mechanical-technology inspections on a sub-assembly conveyor belt. If clean, it moves on to the scheduled gate/airplane. If still suspect, it is sent on an isolation path for physical inspection. And when the officer pulls the bag for physical inspection, he/she updates the RFID with their Badge number, assembly line location, time and date stamp which is sent to my smart phone and logged against my travel log history also held in the master database of 'me'. If for some reason the bag is quarantined due to failing the physical inspection (inspection level 3 in this case), my smartphone is notified to head to an office for inquiry.
My trips to coffee shops, magazine racks, restrooms and while sitting in waiting areas are all logged. And since scanners, cameras and imaging equipment are distributed throughout the airport, transportation infrastructure and parking decks/lots, it would not be unreasonable for my identify, reservation and luggage to have been verified fifty to one-hundred times long before I enter the airplane, let alone the scanners above each seat verifying the occupant during and after boarding. This approach could potentially eliminate the need for any people interaction we are ordinarily associated with at check-in and security checkpoints. Why do we need people interaction for this experience? Walk in, drop your bag, get a coffee and wait to board the plane while thousands of machines do the work of verification and validation in the background.
My favorite technological aspect of this inspection system is the swarm or hive-mind security bots that travel freely throughout the airport properties. Equipped with voice analysers, sniffers, thermal imagery, x-ray imagery, temperature, humidity and remote-controllable cameras if and when necessary, these autonomous security bots create the unpredictable variable to the security environment. Where they will be, when and in what numbers is selected by the bots themselves controlled through a military grade encrypted cloud-based network that constantly gathers data on all passing RFIDs and all environments traversed. All data collected is matched against existing people records when possible, otherwise logged against GPS location based historical log files thereafter enabling trend analysis and forecasting. And when one bot identifies a potential exception, other bots in the general vicinity acknowledge and arrive on the scene for secondary and tertiary validation of initial inspection results. This technology eliminates the need for dogs and dog-handlers and covers more physical ground and completes more inspection and data collection effort than any gathering of Barney Fife's could imagine. Organics are no match.
You see, the solution is not choke-points and the archaic use of physical inspectors and inspections as a primary method of security, but rather predictable and non-predictable geographically distributed implementation of technology solutions using multiple methods and layers of inspection. The solution is to use the X, Y and Z axis of the entire airport property to check scores of attributes and characteristics that construct a more intelligible message about each human, bag and animal on the premises. Subjectivity is eliminated. Human variability is eliminated. The need to train hordes of organics is eliminated, let alone the need to audit them against expected procedure and respond to complaints in arrears with innocuous non-liability legal statements thereafter. Humans are the defect in the human inspection process. The solution is technical and needs to be considered, designed, implemented and managed on multiple axis.
This design, the technology and work is achievable and already exists in various industries in various states of implementation. It isn't that we aren't intelligent enough or capable of respecting liberties while providing high-security, it is likely yet political and built upon a lack of knowledge about what exists, could exist and how to use it. So absent an understanding of something new, we tend to default to comfortable areas built upon what we think we already know. We know how to form lines, ask questions, do pat-downs and hope for competence. This approach is a facet of history, but not our future.
Question: If these technology solutions exist and/or could exist, then what are the pros and cons of this solution approach versus staying with the 'get in line, raise your hands and spin around' approach to security?