Highlighting Security Culture in the New Post-Pandemic Airport World

Nicholas Ratledge by Nicholas Ratledge | Aug 18, 2021

When contemplating security measures at airports, the usual suspects that come to mind are lineups at security checkpoints or the airport perimeter that has large fencing or walls to protect and ward away would-be intruders onto airport property.  There is also the behind-the-scenes work involving background checks and issuing of proper identification for staff with a need and right to work on airport property. 

Historically, aircraft were thought to be the preferred target for malicious actors.  Today, the focus also includes publicly accessible targets at airports involving landside areas such as terminal building check-in areas and arrival halls. To help identify and address this wide range of threats, airports should utilize their best kept secret – people who work at and use the airport.  

So how do airports do this?  This is where promotion of a strong security cultures comes in.

COVID-19 recovery and security culture

With the onset of the COVID-19, airports experienced significant changes with reduced flights and therefore large reduction of staff.  As the pandemic begins to recede and people begin to travel again, there will be a strong push to hire back or even hire new staff at airports.  This provides significant challenges for new employees not familiar with airport environments or for people who have been away from the airport for a prolonged period.

With this, the importance of having strong security culture programs increases significantly as it shapes the attitudes and behaviour of all people utilizing the airport. Employees are assets to an airport and promoting security culture can effectively deliver hundreds of additional resources at a minimal cost.

With travellers looking to fly again, this provides additional opportunities for airport operators in improving security postures at a minimal expense.  The key message for all users of the airport is security is everyone’s responsibility.

How can a positive security culture be implemented?

Identifying how to implement such a culture and where to start can seem overwhelming.  The initial step is to ensure there is full support from the executive team at the airport.  Leaders will need to demonstrate security culture support by motivating people to do the right thing without a fear of retribution.  The effectiveness of a positive security culture is greatest when all members of the airport commit to and support security as a core value.  The key to this is to find ways for staff to become comfortable with reporting security concerns and be able to apply them for improved security awareness.  If the environment is safe and personnel can report mistakes or concerns then there is an opportunity to improve.  The key actions that executive management to implement could include:

  • Recognize security as critical to business success
  • Establish an appreciation of positive security practices among employees
  • Align security to core business goals
  • Explain security as a core need rather than as an obligation or a burdensome compliance expense

Communication is key

Another key aspect when promoting security culture is the need to communicate effectively with all stakeholders.  An airport needs to appoint a communications leader to promote security culture and use of various tools at their disposal.  The most common and effective tool in promoting positive cultures are security awareness campaigns.  These campaigns can be tailored to all users of the airports ranging from the airport operations staff to retail staff to the travelling public – ensuring the messaging matches the roles and responsibilities of the users at the airport.  To support security culture campaigns, airports should use various communications tools at their disposal as part of their campaign.  Examples could be:

  • Weekly newsletters from senior management
  • Blogs or articles from security subject matter experts
  • Security awareness events
  • Posters
  • Small wallet cards for staff
  • Anonymous surveys to determine level of engagement and continuous improvement

Creating an inclusive environment for employees

Airport staff must feel like they can make a difference. Attitudes like ‘it’s not my job’ or ‘I can’t do anything about it’ affect the delivery and the airport users need to believe that they can make a difference, and that management will listen to them if they have something of concern to report, or a suggestion for improvement.

Management of Security Handbook
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It is important to provide regular training to support a positive security culture to all levels of airport users; focusing on applying new security procedures and communicating support to those “tried-and-true” behaviours which should be continued. Training should be designed and delivered to be a key enabler of behaviour change, which reinforces and can even promote a wider security culture.

Airport operators should maintain a strong security management focus when developing programs aimed at improving security. 

ICAO Year of Security Culture

With all of this in mind, during the 40th Session of the ICAO Assembly in 2019, it was requested that the ICAO continue to work on the development of tools to enhance security awareness and security culture, making it a priority and designating 2020 as the Year of Security Culture (YOSC). With the COVID-19 pandemic severely impacting aviation in 2020, the ICAO Council decided to extend the YOSC to 2021.   ACI is a proud supporter of the YOSC as security culture affects not only employees but the overall passenger experience and the restart and recovering to a successful post-COVID world.

ACI has teamed up with ICAO to create the Year of Security Culture video challenge.  We are encouraging airports and their security providers to submit a creative 30 second video to highlight best practice in security and promote positive security culture. The deadline for this has been extended to 30 November 2021.  Prizes will be awarded to the best videos. Interested parties are encouraged to refer to the webpage for further details.

Nicholas Ratledge

Nicholas Ratledge

Senior Manager, Security, Safety, and Operations at Airports Council International (ACI) World
Nicholas Ratledge joined ACI World in March 2015. As Senior Manager, Security, Safety, and Operations at Airports Council International he is responsible for providing guidance and best practice with airport security standards and recommended best practices.
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