Is there science to security? Yes, and it's discussed here
Last week, Popular Mechanics wrote a piece on Permanent Emergency, focusing heavily on the idea of using complexity theory to manage airport security risks. If you’ve started reading my book, you’ll quickly notice that complexity theory is a recurring theme. When I started at TSA, I realized that 450 airports with 50,000 TSA employees screening 2 million passengers a day at checkpoints across the US looks a lot like a complex adaptive system. Like a hurricane that forms a predictable pattern even though all the raindrops are doing their own thing.
So how do we protect the traveling public when the threat is constantly changing?
Terrorists continue to look for ways around the system. If TSA officers simply operate from a set of Standard Operating Procedures, commonly called SOPs, we’re opening ourselves up for an attack. By strictly following a set of rules, the Osama bin Ladens of the world can easily pick up on our playbook. They can identify our SOPs and they know how to get explosives through a magnetometer without alarming.
Continuing to advance the technology at checkpoints to stay ahead of the curve is prudent, but technology isn’t enough. Creating an unpredictable environment is crucial. And to do this, we need to add a human element.
We need to continue to tap into the TSA’s 50,000 frontline officers. The officers understand the checkpoint environment and the passengers that go through it every day. Giving them the training and then the leeway to actually use their knowledge to assess each situation, rather than following a standard set of rules, adds a layer that is hard to crack.
In security, complexity theory can help design effective security that doesn't slow us down.