Sandia conducts human behavior studies with TSA officers

Researchers with Sandia National Laboratories recently conducted a study to determine how a federal transportation security officer's thought process can influence decisions made during the airport baggage screening process.

The study, which was funded by the Transportation Security Administration, may help the TSA improve the performance of its security officers. The researchers focused on the impacts on threat detection when security officers were asked to switch between pre-check and standard passenger lanes.

"We know that expectations have an impact on how people make decisions, and that the actual rate of target items in a sample can also impact decision making," Ann Speed, one of the project's lead researchers, said. "So we designed an experiment to independently test the effects of expectations and threat rates."

Speed said she couldn't reveal specific details from the study, but there were some mitigations based on their findings that would likely be rolled out to airports throughout the U.S.

Sandia previously conducted research analyzing what happened what security officers received advice from expert peers on whether carry-on bags contained threats. A future research project will seek to understand how attributes security officers bring to their jobs prior to training can influence their ability to perform scanning duties.

"TSA's security officers serve many purposes, each of which requires different kinds of communication skills," Speed said. "For instance, there are duties like communicating with passengers about things to divest, such as laptops or liquids, and communicating with passengers in the event a pat-down is required. They also need to possess the ability to keep passengers calm and compliant while performing the tasks required by the standard operating procedure."

Sandia National Laboratories is a multi-program laboratory operated by Sandia Corporation for the U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration.