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Student Symposium 2021

Introduction & Problem Statement

Project Manager Jason Craft Introduces the Project


The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was founded on November 19, 2001, in response to terrorists’ attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. The administration was created by Congress via the Aviation and Transport Security Act and signed into law by former President George W. Bush. Initially, the agency was part of the United States Department of Transportation but in 2003, the TSA was moved under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). 

The TSA is primarily concerned with airport security and the prevention of plane-hijacking. It runs in about 440 airports, employing more than 47,000 Transportation Security Officers (TSO) nationwide. In addition, the administration also employs Federal Air Marshals on planes, mobile teams of dog handlers, and explosive specialists. Whereas broader policies are developed to protect other parts of the U.S transportation system including highways, railroads, buses, mass transit systems, ports, and pipelines. Although these are all part of the TSA, the focus for this project is on TSO in the Indianapolis International Airport. 

TSO are tasked with supplying security and protection for air travelers, airports, and planes. They do not carry weapons and are not authorized to use force or perform arrests. TSO support an elevated level of security in many ways. These include screening incoming people and property using x-ray machines, metal detectors, pat-downsluggage searches, control terminal entry and exit points, interacting with the public, staying vigilant, and following the Standard Operating Procedures implemented by the TSA. 

Considering the Covid-19 pandemic, TSO at the Indianapolis International Airport (IIA) are working as well as can be expected. CDC guidelines such as social distancing, wearing masks, and sanitizing surfaces are being followed as much as possible, and modern technology is being tested to help keep TSO and passengers safe. As of November 2020, the IIA is currently at forty percent operating capacity. Passenger numbers are down due to fear of getting infected, the reduced need for business travel, and the closure of leisure destinations. When the Covid-19 vaccine is developed and more passengers return to the airport, the current operations in place are not projected to handle the influx of passengers. 

Project Manager Jason Craft Explains the Root Cause Analysis

PMA Root Cause Analysis Diagram

Figure 1: Root Cause Analysis Diagram

Problem Statement

The problem is keeping people physically healthy and mentally calm while maintaining the expected high levels of security. Under current Covid-19 circumstances, there was a reduction in the number of passengers, as well as an increase in precautions to prevent the transmission of diseases. Solutions are currently in place to maintain high levels of security and sanitation, but these solutions might not be possible once passenger levels return to normal. The challenge is balancing social distancing and/or future guidelines while keeping the required levels of physical security. Currently, the screening process takes too long for each passenger. This issue leads to an area of congestion where neither passengers nor employees can physically distance themselves. 

Research shows several symptoms and environmental factors that contribute to this problem. Those symptoms and factors are shown in Figure 1: Root Cause Analysis Diagram. This diagram illustrates how the Covid-19 Pandemic causes many issues including some passengers feeling physically and mentally unsafereduced TSA staffing resourcesand temporarily enforceable guidelines. A larger version of this image is available in Appendix ARoot Cause Analysis Diagram. 

One important note about Figure 1: Root Cause Analysis Diagram is that it has been formulated with TSA and IIA policies in place as of mid-November 2020, and there have been multiple policy changes as of the start of 2021. Currently, the policies will come under revision in mid-May with possible extensions if needed. One of the changes for the IIA and TSA comes from the Department of Homeland Security, which has granted the IIA and TSA the authority to enforce state and federal mask mandates. A second policy that the Department of Homeland Security has granted for both the IIA and TSA is the ability to reject passengers from boarding if they test positive for Covid-19. Another change that the IIA has implemented is the policy to test passengers for Covid-19. The scope of the project is focused on post-covid conditions and being prepared for future pandemics as well as any future public expectations. The policy conditions are largely political and may not be concerned with public expectations on which the project is focused.   

The physical health of passengers and employees is important. Under current CDC guidelines, the IIA and TSA are implementing multiple steps to prevent the spread of Covid-19. The most common step implemented is to encourage social distancing of six feet between people. This is not always carried out due to pat-down searches and the restriction of the physical space in the terminals. Security lines are sufficient for now; however, as more passengers return to the airport, they will not be able to social distance without lining up out the door and onto the runways. There is simply not enough physical space currently available. Another CDC guideline that the IIA is encouraging is the use of masks for all visitors without medical restrictions. Sanitation measures are also on commonly touched surfaces. These areas include handrails for stairs and escalators, restrooms, re-composure Tables (tables where passengers gather their belongings after putting them through the scanner), and the bins during the security screening process. Surfaces like these are cleaned every eight hours. 

Keeping passengers mentally calm is equally important. Even with CDC guidelines, the TSA is experiencing reduced staffing resources due to employees in quarantine. This is not because employees are getting infected, it is because they have met people exposed to Covid-19. Additionally, the security screening process is not one hundred percent contact-free. Pat-downs that break social distancing are still sometimes needed. Ten percent of passengers require some form of additional search. These additional searches not only compromise people’s physical health but their mental health as well. 

The IIA holds customer satisfaction in exceedingly high regard. This year the IIA scored 866 out of 1000, which is the highest score for customer satisfaction among all airport sizes within the United StatesPhysical health concerns are rising, and it is becoming more difficult to keep that score. Covid-19 has made some significant impacts on the up-and-coming generation. The TSA must take these impacts into account when structuring its post-Covid-19 operations. 

Authority is another issue that contributes to the problem. The IIA is certified by the Airports Council International (ACI). The Airport Health Accreditation, developed in response to Covid-19, falls under ACI authority. There are many other organizations tied to the IIA but listing all of them here would be unnecessary. Potential passengers might be skeptical of this organizational entanglement because too many bureaucratic organizations can show signs of manipulation and contradiction. It does not matter how many measures or how much cleaning the Indianapolis Airport Authority implements because conceptual knowledge and critical thoughts keep potential passengers at bay. Touchless technology and the words safe and clean do not directly help an airport that relies on a fully functional economy. Establishing a clearer authority structure may help airports nation-wide become less concerning to the public. 

Many passengers perceive a greater need for sanitization than the airport is currently providingThis mental need for safety makes some passengers feel discouraged if other people are not following CDC guidelines. The CDC suggested guidelines not only to keep people safe but to keep them calm as well. Despite this, TSO are unable to enforce any of the CDC guidelines. The only permanent enforcement taking place is done by the CDC directly. Once tickets are booked, the passenger's personal information is cross-referenced with a CDC list of known infected individuals. If passenger is on the list, they can be denied a ticket. There is no legal authority granting power to the TSA when it comes to Covid-19, TSO cannot make passengers wear masks, social distance, or even test for Covid-19. Although the TSA wants to enforce masks and social distancing, they do not want to test passengers. This is because testing is a liability issue. Even if passengers test positive for Covid-19, TSO cannot stop them from boarding a plane. Other airports could blame the IIA for knowingly sending them sick people. Only the airlines have the full authority to deny passengers from boarding. 

Many of the current issues facing the enforcement of CDC guidelines could be changed when new governmental administrations go into effect. The recent election might bring about changes in policy and enforcement. Along with CDC guidelines, the IIA must adapt to the Standard Operating Procedures created by the federal government. This puts the IIA in a tough spot. They want to keep people physically healthy and mentally calm, but they lack the proper authority to do so. 

Under the current procedures, the TSA has been able to implement modern technology that aids in the authentication of credentials, making it contact-free for employees. With the procedures that are being carried out, the security area of the airport must absorb more costs of around thirty dollars per customer. Normally, the price per customer is closer to five dollars. This increased price per customer is due to the decreased number of passengersThe closure of travel destinations, the cancelation of business conferences, and the fear of getting sick all decrease the current demand for flying. If the airline was to make more operation changes, like testing for Covid-19, these changes combined with current operations may fall outside of reasonable costs for the airport. 

Introduction & Problem Statement