CB2: What TSA Can Learn From the Simpsons

Chris Bennett’s Crisis Blog (CB2) Part 1 of 2 on the TSA Debate

The TSA pat-down situation is making national and GovLoop headlines this week as images of naked body scans and videos of screaming children being frisked circulate through millions of travelers and non-travelers alike.

In today’s CB2 I’ll propose a partial solution to the screening issue that I believe could be implemented quickly, acknowledging upfront that a separate solution to how the scans are conducted is something out of my scope.

One of the best ways to diffuse anxiety and confrontation is to educate someone on an experience before it happens. Before boarding The Simpsons Ride in Universal last month, I was presented with numerous signs describing how the ride worked, followed by a video on what it looked like to be on the ride. We were even locked in a small screening room to watch that video, ensuring nobody missed it. Not only does this education protect Universal legally, it also lets parents and children know what’s going to happen so they don’t freak out screaming and crying, ruining the experience for everyone else.
Three key words there: Safety, Efficiency, Experience. We all want the same three things out of airport security: a safe environment on the plane, efficient (fast) security lines, and a positive experience going through them. Since no traveler can change the current TSA rules after stepping into an airport, the more people that are fully aware of the screening process ahead of them, the fewer people will try to carry on hairspray or argue about a pat down, getting them through the line more efficiently, improving their experience and mine as I stand behind them in line.
Drawing from that belief that education can reduce one’s anxiety before an uncomfortable situation, here’s is what I’m submitting to Talk to TSA as my idea:

  • The TSA website is great, including your overview of Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT), but let’s be honest, few people will ever seek this out ahead of their flight. TSA website traffic is estimated around 900,000 hits per month which is 1.5% of the estimated 60 million US travelers in that same period.
  • But guess what? An estimated 73% of travelers purchase their airline tickets online, and growing. That means someone has their email addresses to educate them about security ahead of time.

  • That’s right, the airlines have those email addresses. And yes, they care about travelers having a safe and positive experience as much as or more than you do, not to mention a traveler stuck in a TSA interrogation room could delay their flight, and that costs them money.
  • So here’s an idea, work with the airlines on a standard where a security email goes out to travelers 24-48 hours before their flight. Briefly describe the current screening process to be expected and link to more in-depth resources on your website. Emphasize videos of what a pat down and AIT experience looks like. Offer it in multiple languages.
  • Take that a step further and personalize that email based on which airport the traveler is flying out of. This could mean pictures of the screening area, a listing of which machines and processes are used, and other tips that the airport believes would address their common problems.
  • Make it painfully obvious who the traveler can call or email with their question to address issues ahead of time. Let the traveler know it’s a take-it-or-leave-it situation. If they want to complain about the procedure, let them know where to take those complaints.
  • Continue to encourage TSA videos in security lines that describe the process right then and there. Philadelphia’s new terminal does a great job of this. A 6″x12″ sign on a line divider doesn’t cut it.

So GovLoop, what do you think of this idea? Have you seen an airline start doing this recently? Let’s continue this discussion in the comments. Remember, if you have your own idea, GovLoop has a topic for that.

Read Last Week’s CB2: GroupMe Gets the Gov2.0 Treatment

About Chris Bennett (Jump to Online Resume)

Chris Bennett is a self-proclaimed emergency management innovator who is trying to make government better by improving citizen preparedness and crisis communications. He’s a graduate of Wharton with a master’s from Harvard with in “Technology, Innovation, Education.” His portfolio of companies and former projects include OneStorm Hurricane Preparedness, ReadyTown, GovLive, TexasPrepares and America’s Emergency Network. Chris was the recipient of FL Governor Crist’s 2008 Public Information Award. He lives in St. Petersburg, FL, loves to fish, and has been spotted sharing a pint with GovLoop Founder Steve Ressler in Tampa.

What does CB2 Mean? “Chris Bennett’s Crisis Blog.” It was originally CB Squared but the superscript 2 never took, so now we’re rocking the big 2.

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Profile Photo Stephen Peteritas

I like the idea of putting the onus on the airlines. As far as video goes I think it would decrease the shock value of a first time flyer. Also the after you’ve purchased the ticket doesn’t do much good because airline fare is expensive and very few people are going to turn back or second guess going on a flight after they’ve shelled out 200 plus for it. The video or explanations need to be seen before hand (as much of a pain in the butt as that is) so that way people who put up a fuss know exactly what they bargained for before buying a service. If you sign some electronic form before you buy the service than you can’t complain about the terms of service after you buy it. Well you can complain but then you are just an idiot.

***disclaimer I think the steps right now are invasive but like Chris said as long as it’s law or implemented you can’t do much about it minus prep work.

Profile Photo Adriel Hampton

The problem is not education, the problem is the problem. This is not increasing our security, it is creating long, vulnerable lines of people in areas of our airports that are not secure. It is also enriching the former director of Homeland Security who recommended this technology in the first place. It is also a violation of the 4th Amendment. And while the actual screening process is not that bothersome to me, it is to others, and it is clearly insane. I want a collaborative, transparent and efficient government, not a better-fuctionining totalitarian state. Enough is enough.

Profile Photo Chris Bennett

Stephen, I see your point and agree the educational materials should be ahead of the purchase “as well.” It’s still needed after purchase (near the time of flying) as a reminder – not to mention rules and procedures could change from the time you purchase to the time you fly.

Adriel, I agree that we need to find some balance to the problem that people can respect while keeping us secure- but I don’t know what that looks like so I won’t comment on it. My point is that while we have a problem to work out at least we can educate people to better handle it.

It’s a failure of government to entrap people with these searches without going to better lengths to educate them on what may happen ahead of time – a different issue than whether or not it’s a failure of government to conduct the searches in the first place.

Profile Photo Michele Costanza

What happened to the simple cardboard cut out signs in front of the line entrance at rides? It’s very simple. If you aren’t as tall as the sign, you don’t ride. We now need a video explanation of an amusement park ride?

Profile Photo Jenyfer Johnson

I have to agree with Adriel, the entire process is invasive and done out in the open for everyone else to see. The travelers aren’t treated as “customers” or even “travelers” anymore, they are treated as some sort of “enemy combatants” by the TSA screeners. After hearing stories of what test groups were able to get past the screeners, I have serious doubts about any new screening processes. We aren’t living in a totalitarian state where we have given up our rights by purchasing an airline ticket.

I had one screener a few years ago swipe down (for explosives) my little portable IPod/DVD player because he didn’t know what it was and had never seen one. Really? But the shoe bomber can get on board a plane?

According to the Wall Street Journal, your odds of dying in an airborne terrorist attack are one in 25 million…your odds of being hit by lightning are one in 500,000…your odds of dying from cancer are one in seven. Yet we continue to spend twice as much on anti-terrorism measures than on disease control.
As a cancer survivor I am appalled.

Profile Photo Joe Flood

It’s not a communications problem. People have a pretty good idea about what the TSA is doing and they don’t like it. More communication or different communication isn’t going to change that. The solution is obvious – end the groping and the naked scans.

Profile Photo Chris Bennett

Thank you everyone for the great comments!

I disagree that people as a whole have a good idea about what to expect from TSA. I’d venture to guess that at least 1/3 of the people in line at security haven’t flown in over a year. There are always people who don’t understand why they have to take their shoes off, let alone submit to body scanners.

Yes, the measures taking place now are extreme and deserving of this collective outrage – not a point I contest on this post. However, I’m practical and conceding to the fact that even if TSA adjusts to become less intrusive, security measures will remain high.

Sticking to my guns that education on what to expect will make whatever process we settle on less intimidating to travelers and move security lines through faster.

Profile Photo John Bordeaux

Perhaps it’s just me, but it seems the inability to know what to expect is part of TSA’s strategy? After all, if we know what to expect, so do the scary people (one reason we are all now treated as enemy combatants). I’m guessing this is why I need my boarding pass in my hand at LGA, but not at IAD. Or shoes on the belt in SFO, but not at DCA, etc. Randomization of procedure seems to be part of the plan…

In other words, I don’t expect TSA to be open to more transparency here. But I hope I’m wrong.