Improving Airport Security Is Goal of New Research Institute

Release Date: September 1, 2004 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A research institute to examine ways to improve security systems at airports and other transportation hubs is being established at the University at Buffalo under a $538,000 grant from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to a UB engineering professor who is an expert in human factors that affect aviation inspection.

To be led by Colin Drury, professor and chair of the Department of Industrial Engineering in the UB School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the UB Research Institute for Safety and Security in Transportation (RISST) will study human factors that contribute to errors and inefficiencies in security systems, such as those used to inspect baggage and screen passengers in airports.

RISST researchers also will study how and why inspectors fail to find defects during routine aircraft maintenance.

Research in this area has been an ongoing focus of Drury's work, funded by more than $1 million from the Federal Aviation Administration. Much of Drury's aviation-inspection research now will take place within the RISST, where he and co-researchers will continue examining the effects of fatigue on aircraft inspection, and the prevalence of language-related errors in aviation maintenance and inspection.

An internationally recognized expert on how human factors -- such as ergonomics, fatigue and training -- affect aviation inspection, Drury is applying techniques he developed during more than 30 years of aircraft-inspection research to the study of transportation security systems. Drury is a member of TSA's Scientific Advisory Panel and serves on the National Research Council's Panel on Assessment of Technologies Deployed to Improve Aviation Security. As a member of these panels, he has reviewed security systems in airports around the world.

"RISST will produce research that will have immediate impact on TSA's efforts to improve transportation security systems nationwide, particularly at airports," Drury says. "The systems in place now can have a low error rate, but until we achieve a zero percent error rate there's room for improvement."

Drury expects RISST to be operational next year and equipped with the same security systems used in airports. Testing with human subjects using the systems will help UB researchers determine factors that lead to common airport-security inspection errors related to false alarms and failure to detect threats. Their analysis will show whether those errors typically arise from poor searching or from poor decision making, among other factors.

The results will be used by TSA to identify and respond to potential breakdowns in transportation security systems, Drury says.

"Many errors occur at the point where humans and technology work together to make a decision," Drury says. "Depending on the system, this could mean the technology needs to be tailored for more efficient human use or that humans need to be better trained to use the system."

Data from RISST studies will be compiled in a database and made available to other researchers nationwide working on projects to advance public safety.

The institute also will apply its resources and findings to improve safety and security outside of airports and in and around other potential terror targets, Drury says.

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