More than an Annoyance: Are Long Lines a Threat to Security?

April 25, 2016Perry Kuklin

The recent bombings in Brussels have brought more than a little attention to airport security issues not related to physically boarding and occupying an airline, rather in the terminals themselves. According to a recent Washington Examiner article by Sean Higgins, anti-terrorism experts are declaring that “the crowds of waiting passengers caused by the need to check for weapons and bombs inadvertently creates its own terrorism target.”

The article suggests that terrorists are looking for mass casualty targets. If they can’t get on the plane, they seek out another approach, experts say. Airport terminals become a likely target. In fact, according to reports it appears the terrorists in Brussels showed no indication of boarding a plane at all. Their target was the terminal’s main area. “Public spaces seem to be their killing fields now,” according to Bill Jenkins, a terrorism policy expert with the Rand Corporation.

The question is why?

The article addresses how it is not the size of the bomb that matters, but rather its proximity to a large number of people. If the terminal’s security processes create a large crowd gathered closely together it becomes a target. The article gave two examples demonstrating the effectiveness of terrorists targeting crowds:

First, it used the Glasgow attack as an example of a failed attempt because the terrorists hit security partitions before getting to a heavily occupied area of the airport. Second, it used the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings as a successful attempt because bombs were dropped right in the middle of a large crowd.

The article suggests that “speeding up passenger processing by the Transportation Security Administration would reduce the danger by reducing the crowds.” Marshal McClain, president of the Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers Association confirms this theory by stating, “Anything that lessens the crowds is a positive.”

It is shown that many current security measures focused on preventing terrorists from causing a plane crash result in longer waiting lines within the terminal. While managers and security officers in transportation settings need to ensure these processes take place, it’s time to look at ways to meet both objectives of security within the terminal and on the plane.

Can Queuing Technology Play a Role?

Naturally, we would contend that queuing technology can indeed play a role in reducing the number of people waiting in line within a terminal or any other location, for that matter.

Virtual queuing systems can be used to eliminate the physical waiting line and thereby disperse waiting crowds. They work by virtually placing customers in a queue for service, automatically monitoring and managing customers and service allocation along the way, and then calling customers to be served when it is their time for service.

Virtual queuing’s greatest impact is that customers do not have to arrive at the gate or counter until agents are ready to serve them. This can go a long way to keep people from gathering together in one place.

Queue monitoring technology can also help by keeping a “real-time” eye on safety and compliance issues and ensuring waiting lines stay within an acceptable length.

State of the art sensors can monitor queue activity to deliver actionable data that is easily understood and real-time alerts allow managers to take action before crowds reach an unacceptable mass. These sensors are easily placed within stanchions or mounted above the queue as to not take up space or cause any hindrance to customer flow.

One certainty is that security is a multi-faceted challenge and threats will never be completely eliminated. However, in light of what experts are learning, lengthy waiting lines are worthy of a closer look.

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