The Art of Transformation

31 August 2008 (Last Updated August 31st, 2008 18:30)

Copenhagen Airport was notorious for its pre-screening queues, and audits by the Danish civil aviation authorities. The EU had identified low security standards caused partly by staffing problems, but the turnaround has been swift and effective, explains Johnnie Müller, head of security at Copenhagen Airports.

The Art of Transformation

"We were making headlines for all the wrong reasons," says Johnnie Müller, head of security at Copenhagen Airports. "There were queues and complaints. People were angry. The minister was angry. The government wanted something to happen."

Part of the problem, he explains, was that security screening, which was only semi-automated, was done in three locations, which made it difficult to man the stations and process passengers smoothly. The first part of the solution was to invest €27m in a new, single security checkpoint, which was opened in June 2007. But problems remained with staff numbers.

Müller hired 120 new employees, bringing the number of security staff at the airport to 860; 620 deployed in passenger and staff security, and 150 dedicated to critical restricted security areas (CSRA). Under Danish law, no subcontractors can be involved in airport security.

"Müller hired 120 new employees, bringing the number of security staff at the airport to 860."

With 250 officers, Copenhagen Airport's police station is the largest in the country but the police role is confined to crime and passport control. Nevertheless Müller works closely with the police, chairing the airport's security committee, which includes representatives from the police, the secret service, CAA and leading airlines. "We meet at least twice a year and then as needed, for instance we met immediately after the controversial publication in Denmark of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad."

Copenhagen's security personnel receive intensive training, says Müller, and supervisors must have a minimum of two years' airport security experience, which means that recruitment is often done via internal promotions.

"We have changed the whole organisation and its structure. We also changed the way of thinking and working within it. All the leaders, managers and supervisors in security have had to develop a new knowledge set to change their way of behaving."

Cooperation

The airport also makes use of the 20,000 people who work there in non-security positions, although Müller admits that this poses a challenge: "A lot of US airports involve other workers on the site in security, giving each new addition to the workforce security briefings on how to spot suspicious behaviour and report it to security.

"It's a good idea but it's difficult to achieve the ideal balance. If I suddenly have lots of airport staff reporting to my operations centre with things they've seen, we have to react quickly and smoothly to those calls. If we don't, then they won't call next time and the system is killed.

"Rather than go completely down the US route, we have focused on using visible ID cards, which everyone must wear. If a worker sees someone without ID, they must contact security immediately." In the case of suspicious criminal behaviour, the police are called.

"You cannot enter the CSRA without being checked – and that includes everybody, even government ministers," explains Müller. "When you have that level of security in place, you cannot bring anything dangerous into the area with you, and this is critical for our security regime."

Centralised security channel

Much thought went into the design and promotion of the new, centralised security channel. The Copenhagen team went out and looked at best practice elsewhere and, as a member of the Airport Council International (ACI) Security Committee, took advice on how best to proceed.

"Copenhagen's security personnel receive intensive training."

"One thing immediately became clear," recalls Müller. "Passengers' luggage was heavy and difficult for security personnel to lift. We needed to figure out an automatic system that obviated the need to lift items. So we went to Rome, Frankfurt and Brussels to check out their processes. We took the best of what we saw in those airports and developed our own fully automated tray system."

The system that Copenhagen wanted was not available two years ago, so the airport developed its technology in collaboration with a range of Danish companies. "The result is a unique security checkpoint," explains Müller. "You won't see it anywhere else. And, crucially, staff members are happy with the new system.

"We are content from a management point of view because it was vital for us to maintain the existing number of staff per lane. Why should we build an automated system that required more staff?"

But there was more to the new facility than its ergonomics. "We wanted to build this new installation in the Danish architectural style. It had to be big and light, and it had to be a pleasant place to work. Most importantly, there should be no noise. A lot of our developmental efforts went into working out how to make an automated tray system with hard plastic that was noiseless. This was," confesses Müller, "a difficult task."

The overall aim was to achieve a calm atmosphere for passengers, in order to reduce the stress levels normally experienced when passing through security procedures. Copenhagen's research identified noise as a key contributor to stress. Müller maintains that the new setup has contributed noticeably to passengers' mood.

This has been underpinned by the information video shown to travellers before they pass through the controls. In the past it was informal and matter-of-fact, but the airport decided to change tack, as Müller explains: "We added an ironic, humorous angle. The underlying message is that we know what we are doing and we are in control, so we can joke about it, yet it remains serious. This works because passengers are more relaxed when they approach the checkpoint. Users of the old, serious security-screening regime have noted and appreciated the marked difference."

This attention to detail extended as far as the bins in which liquids and other prohibited items are deposited before passengers pass through security. "We took time to design the repositories so that they look nice," says Müller. "They are not just big black bins."

The throughput on the centralised security checkpoint is now 18 passengers every five minutes, compared with 17 passengers previously. Without the need to screen liquids, Müller says the figure would increase to 21, and if laptops no longer had to be removed from their bags it would rise to 22.

"Copenhagen Airport's police station is the largest in the country."

With its old system, Copenhagen had a metal detector for each of its security lanes. Under the new dispensation, there is a single detector for every two lanes. Müller asserts that although this seems counter-intuitive, the setup is actually more efficient. "If you have one member of staff to each metal-detector checkpoint and a single detector per lane, the passenger flow is stopped whenever that staff member has to do a search. With two personnel on a detector serving two lanes, delays are reduced because it is unusual that you need to block the flow for two searches at the same time."

The future for security, believes Müller, is rosy. He is of the opinion that technology will continue to improve until passengers will pass through a tunnel of detectors and screeners as they enter the airport and, unless suspicious items are found, they will not notice the process. Müller does not, however, believe that identity cards – which are not issued in Denmark – are part of the solution.

"The most important thing is to be sure passengers are not bringing anything illegal with them – whoever they are," he says.