Security Awareness: a proactive security measure

Security Awareness: a proactive security measure

Nimrod Matan sets out to demonstrate how security awareness training can be considered, in addition to its significance as a component in the professional development of an employee, a tool for enhancing the security level of the airport. As such, it is an operational challenge as well as a challenge for human resources and compliance departments.

For decades, security awareness training has been part of the mandatory training requirements set forth by numerous aviation security agencies and regulators worldwide. For example, EC Regulation 2015/1998, which lays down “detailed measures for the implementation of the common basic standards on aviation security” in the European Union, lists security awareness training among the required topics for aviation security training, in sections and 11.2.7.

Security awareness training is mandated by the EU legislator not only for security staff but for all those “requiring unescorted access to security restricted areas”, except for passengers.

Security awareness is considered part of an employee’s professional training. The provisions concerning security awareness training are therefore detailed in paragraph 11 of the legislation, entitled “Staff recruitment and training”, and consequently ensuring adherence to the requirement is the responsibility of the training or compliance departments of entities such as airports, airlines and security companies.

Reporting is Key

According to the EC regulation, one of the subjects that should be covered by security awareness training is “knowledge of reporting procedures”. The European legislator acknowledges that one of the indicators of an employee’s awareness of security matters is their ability to report on whatever needs to be reported. Following recent terrorist attacks in public places – among them transportation hubs such as airports and train stations – more and more authorities have begun promoting the importance of reporting any suspicious activity that might indicate a potential attack. A conspicuous example is the “See it. Say it. Sorted” campaign launched by National Rail in the UK in November 2016, encouraging train passengers to report whatever they deem suspicious.

But what should be considered suspicious? What calls for reporting? And who is most suitable to provide efficient and accurate reports? Could non-security staff who lack professional security training provide valuable reports?

Unusual Means Suspicious

Analysis of recent terrorist attacks shows that in almost all cases, suspicious signs indicative of an upcoming attack were exhibited in the months, weeks, days, hours and minutes beforehand. Some of these signs were reported but many others were never noted. Only in retrospect did it become apparent that, had those indications been reported, law enforcement agencies might have been able to take action to prevent the attack or at least minimise its consequences.

Let us consider the example of the taxi driver who drove the Brussels Airport 2016 attackers to Zaventem, unaware, of course, that they were on their way to commit a deadly attack. It was reported in the post-event investigation that the terrorists were reluctant to let him touch their luggage (which contained explosives). Their behaviour, so he testified, seemed “weird” to him. In addition, their suitcases were unusually heavy, which further increased the driver’s suspicion.

This demonstrates a key point concerning the question raised earlier, namely, what should be considered suspicious? The taxi driver is well used to driving customers to the airport. It is common practice for drivers to help passengers load their luggage into the vehicle, and bags have typical sizes and weights. The driver seems to have had all the necessary knowledge to be able to detect suspicious behaviour, even though he was not a security officer. Quite simply, he was familiar with the routine behaviour of regular passengers. Suspicious behaviour is, first and foremost, behaviour that is unusual when compared to the habitual circumstances of the environment. The people who are most likely to detect unusual behaviour are thus those who are most familiar with the usual behaviour at a certain facility. The general staff at the airport – not necessarily security staff – are those who are equipped with the most important skill to be able to efficiently report on suspicious signs; they know the routines of their workplace and will most likely be the first to detect any deviation from these routines and thus be able to report on it. Moreover, they are present throughout the airport, at all times of the day, and can act as ‘eyes and ears’ if given the right tools to do so.

Human Sensors

Airport employees, as well as those of any large facility such as train stations, shopping centres or other public venues, can therefore act as human sensors, as, by virtue of their familiarity with the routines of the facility, they are highly sensitive to any abnormal or unusual behaviour or event. Those who know the norms of behaviour for a given location are most apt to detect the unusual – even when it comes to suspicious signs that might indicate an upcoming terrorist attack or criminal activity. But, like any other sensors, such as cameras or intrusion detection systems, human sensors also require calibration.

How can employees be ‘calibrated’ to become accurate and efficient human sensors, reporting on suspicious signs? The answer is through training. To be able to exercise their knowledge of the routines of the environment, detect unusual events and report on them, staff need to be familiar first with the concept of suspicious signs, so as to grasp the idea that suspicious does not necessarily mean frightening, intimidating or dangerous-looking. Remember the signs exhibited by the Brussels airport attackers who refused to be helped with their luggage. There was no hint of violence in the sight of a person insisting on handling his own luggage, but rather in the context of the routine of taxi driving. The terrorists’ rejection of assistance seemed unusual to the driver and hence suspicious in his eyes.

“…like any other sensors, such as cameras or intrusion detection systems, human sensors also require calibration…”

Secondly, staff should be given examples of common suspicious signs that are typical to the facility in which they work. The routine behaviour of a passenger on their way to board a flight is different from the usual behaviour of, say, a customer in a shopping centre. Usual and unusual are always relative to the environment in which they occur. Thirdly, to be properly ‘calibrated’ as human sensors, staff need to be trained on how to efficiently report their suspicions, and how to focus on what is essential and factual and refrain from interpretation and speculation.

The Challenge

The challenge is therefore to deliver training to thousands of staff so as to achieve the three training objectives:

  • Understand the concept of suspicious signs and their relation to unusual behaviour and deviation from common routines
  • Become familiar with suspicious signs that are typical and specific to one’s work environment, and
  • Practice efficient and accurate reporting.

While most traditional General Security Awareness Training (GSAT) programmes do cover, to a certain degree, at least some of these points, none focuses solely on them. None of them have the objective to equip staff with the necessary skills – in other words, ‘calibrate’ them – to become effective human sensors.

Designing a training solution that meets these requirements needs to comply with six principles that can be summed up under the acronym FRIDAY.

Fast Response
Unfortunately, terrorist attacks have not ceased. For a security awareness training programme to be efficient, it should be easily and quickly adaptable so that it can be updated whenever a new significant event occurs, so that new lessons concerning new suspicious signs that may be exhibited by attackers can be extracted from it.
The issue of relevance is closely connected to that of fast response. In today’s era, when we are immersed in a constant flow of information, a training programme that is not regularly updated with new content could lose relevance and cause users to stop paying attention to it.
Training must be simple, at eye level, and use intuitive and self-explanatory methods and tools. The general population of airport employees is diverse in terms of educational background and prior knowledge, and training programmes must be designed so as to suit them all.
For large organisations, such as airports, to deploy a new programme might require quite extensive resources and manpower and might encounter various organisational obstacles – technical, legal and human factor-related. Smooth, fast deployment of the training solution is key to its success.
Time is a precious resource, and training time even more so. Every minute spent in training is a minute less spent in the workplace. Efficient training should be available for everyone, at any time and in any place, to maximise efficiency and minimise loss of productivity.
Young Audience
Lastly, many of the staff employed at airports are young people who are characterised as being highly literate technologically, fast learning, and yet have a relatively short attention span. To win the employees’ attention, any training solution must speak the language of the new generation and be able to successfully compete with other distractors.

“…efficient training should be available for everyone, at any time and in any place, to maximise efficiency and minimise loss of productivity…”


A solution that meets the aforementioned challenge is a training app, available for staff either on their personal mobile phones or on company devices, anytime and anywhere.

The app offers a simple, engaging training experience focusing on what suspicious signs are, which signs are typical to the airport environment, and how to efficiently and accurately report on such signs when detected.

The app can be constantly updated with the latest news and analyses of terrorist events and the suspicious signs that were exhibited before them, in order to keep it dynamic, surprising and intriguing.

By using the app on a regular basis, employees’ security awareness becomes more than a matter of mere compliance with regulations. Employee awareness becomes a resource that adds and contributes to the facility’s level of security. It helps to turn staff into sensors for suspicious signs that, unlike technological sensors, are already deployed throughout the facility and, by using the app, are kept constantly ‘calibrated’ to generate efficient reports.

shows interest

Awareness thus becomes a proactive security measure and no longer the sole responsibility of trainers, HR managers and compliance directors.

The AWARE App Case Study

ICTS has developed AWARE, a security awareness training app for general, non-security staff, focusing on the detection of, and reporting on, suspicious signs in the workplace. The app consists of a 20-minute basic training – an interactive, animation-based module – and a continuously updated library of case studies analysing past terrorist attacks and pinpointing the suspicious signs that were exhibited prior to the attacks and could have helped prevent the attacks had they been reported. AWARE is available for staff in various sectors: airports, municipalities, shopping centres, stadiums and office buildings, with an emphasis on the suspicious signs that are typical to each environment.

“…many of the staff employed at airports are young people who are characterised as being highly literate technologically, fast learning, and yet have a relatively short attention span…”

In 2018, ICTS launched a pilot of the app, using its own employees, in 12 different countries in Europe and in the US and Canada. Some 2,600 employees used the app during the pilot period, and their results were collected and analysed. The app was made available on company devices (tablets, PCs and phones), and staff were encouraged to install it on their personal devices as well. Many accepted the offer enthusiastically.

Michael Henderson, supervisor of the company’s London Gatwick HBS operation explained that, “I do like having a company app on my personal phone”. And Jean Paul Ramirez, Operations Lead at Miami Airport commented that, “It is a powerful and informative tool to have on my company phone”.

The valuable feedback collected during the pilot helped improve the app and made it more suitable to the organisational and operational needs of airports, as they became apparent during the pilot period and through interviewing of key stakeholders in the organisation.

One of the issues we wanted to learn about through the pilot was how users and managers perceived the difference between the AWARE app and traditional security awareness training programmes available at the airport. Dennis Latchu, ACTS Aviation Security Director of Operations and Cargo in in the Miami region, explains that AWARE complements SIDA (the security awareness training programme delivered at airports in the US). “SIDA is airport specific, regarding the individual airport’s security plans, while AWARE allows the trainee to recognise potentially dangerous situations and teaches how to effectively deal with them without risk of personal harm”.


Neil Hodgson, ICTS UK Regional Manager at London Gatwick Airport, comments that the AWARE app allowed staff to complete training on the go. “It does not fix the end-user to a given time and location in order to complete, therefore time management-wise it is more efficient”. Hodgson contrasted the AWARE app to CBT and classroom training that, “require rostering people to a given time and location and is more time-consuming”.

Another point we were keen on testing through the pilot was the employees’ response to the offer to install a training app on their personal devices. Dennis Latchu explains that “realistically, almost everyone owns a smartphone or tablet”. He then adds with satisfaction that, “This affords companies like ours an opportunity to provide more training using technology that employees are comfortable and proficient in using. The fact that 73% of our staff used a mobile app to complete this training is a tangible assessment of its value and effectiveness”.

Ramirez then summarises: “I feel the app is polished and engaging. It is very user-friendly for all levels of tech savviness. The AWARE app shines by being able to give you animated visuals of the programme. It helps with comprehending and remembering the training better”.


With the reality of there being an ongoing threat to civil aviation in general, and airports in particular, security awareness is much more than another training duty for staff. It has the potential to significantly enhance the airport’s security level without requiring investment in technological infrastructures and sophisticated sensor systems. The most advanced, intelligent, knowledgeable, adaptable and efficient sensor is already there – deployed throughput the airport. It only needs calibration. This sensor is the airport staff. Its calibration is security awareness training. Training that is intuitive and fast, easily adapted and updated so as to ensure that it continues to be relevant, available at any time and any place, easily deployed in large organisations for thousands of staff, and attractive enough for young employees to engage in.

Nimrod Matan

Nimrod Matan is the chief technology officer at Innovisec Solutions, a division of ICTS Europe.

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