Integrator Insights: Security Theater Versus Performing to the Appropriate Standard

Security theater means the illusion of safety is there; however, if people knew the rate of failure, the illusion would surely shatter.

Integrator Insights: Security Theater Versus Performing to the Appropriate Standard

Adobe Stock image by Mihail

Think back on the last few times that you’ve flown. What was it like?

If you’re anything like me, you most likely arrived at the airport two hours before your flight was scheduled to board so you could take part in America’s favorite national pastime: navigating TSA security checkpoints!

As you were in line, inching closer and closer to the ID station, you most likely overheard the commands that you soon would have to follow. What was it this time? Shoes off? Belt in the bin?

Did you put your laptop in a separate bin, or were you yelled at for failing to remember? Was the full-body scanner down? Did they make you go through a typical metal detector instead? What actually works?

According to covert testing performed by the Department of Homeland Security in recent years, TSA screeners missed upwards of 95% of drugs, weapons or bombs in mock scenarios.

Security Theater

An apt term that is often thrown around for such measures is “security theater.” My own personal definition of “security theater” is all show and no substance. A key indicator is a customer experience survey that the TSA conducted that showed 94% of respondents felt the TSA was performing an adequate job of keeping air travel safe.

The illusion of safety is there; however, if people knew the rate of failure, the illusion would surely shatter. So, what can the TSA do to ensure they are performing to the standards expected of them?

As experts in the security integration industry, how often do we ask ourselves this same question? Our customers rely on us to provide the truth when designing a system for their needs. Meanwhile, all too often, the latest AI analytic, or “the final single pane of glass” that will resolve all customer pain points, bombards us.

Overlooking simple things, such as the egress of a door or the placement of a camera, can compromise an otherwise-effective solution. A high-security environment can be hamstrung by the act of installing Wiegand readers in an era in which Flipper Zero is not only a cheap tool but also — let’s face it — fun.

One last detriment to an otherwise-effective system is alarm fatigue or the lack of notifications from the security system. How often do we return to customers to ask them how their experience has been? How often do we test these solutions before deploying them for customers?

I want to leave you with this: If you see something in a design or system that makes you say huh?, speak your mind. You could very well save the customer from some future unknown headache…or worse.

A Shining Light in the Darkness

As for the TSA, there is a shining light in the darkness. Airplane manufacturers have greatly increased airplane security through more secure designs, such as reinforced cockpit doors, secondary cockpit doors and the ability to unlock lavatory doors from the outside.

There has also been an increase in the number of air marshals aboard commercial flights to help combat those who might pass through security checkpoints. Finally, and most controversially, an increase in anti-terrorist intelligence helps stop criminals before they can set foot in an airport.

So, rest easy, TSA. And maybe make up your mind on the whole shoes thing….

Devin Baize is an IT manager for Preferred Technologies in Dallas. He has seven years of experience in the security integration industry and has worked with Axis Communications, Hanwha, Mercury, Genetec and other brands and solutions.

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