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SeMS: bureaucratic process or effective countermeasure?

In the wake of increased security attacks throughout the world, there are many concerns regarding the effectiveness of airport security measures. As terrorists will always wish to target civil aviation, we have to ensure that aviation security will continue to be enhanced and improved upon. The introduction of Security Management Systems (SeMS) and the integration of security into the culture and everyday operations of an organisation is only achievable with cooperation from everyone at every level. Nicos Petrou answers the dilemma of whether SeMS is really an effective countermeasure or just another bureaucratic process.

From Reactive to Proactive

Aviation security has always been reactive. In the early days, regulations and requirements were very weak and oversight was shallow and problematic; these vulnerabilities were exposing the industry to a high-risk of threats being realised. After a number of major incidents, aviation security was reshaped with corrective measures to counterbalance weaknesses, and the introduction of stringent regulations and requirements and more frequent security tests, audits and exercises. Despite the improvement and reinvention of the aviation security structure, especially post-2001, security risks could not be identified and mitigated on time.

In the last few years, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has gradually introduced a new concept, a Security Management System (SeMS), which is a systemic approach to managing security in an efficient and cost effective way. Under this new system, management and non-management staff alike become accountable and committed to security and trained to identify and report security threats proactively. The information contained in reports produced via the system will be analysed and threats assessed and mitigated on time, thus considerably improving security performance and decreasing vulnerability.

The Recipe for SeMS

The key to proactive aviation security is to have an effective and robust SeMS. In order to achieve an effective SeMS the following elements should be adopted:

  • Management commitment;
  • Employee involvement;
  • Training and education;
  • Accountability and responsibilities;
  • Security culture;
  • Resource management;
  • Communication;
  • Threat assessment;
  • Reporting system;
  • Risk management;
  • Continuous improvement;
  • Security performance indicators;
  • Contingency plan.

Management Commitment

Effective management is key to achieving organisational goals. All resources have to be managed effectively in order to accomplish the organisation’s objectives. This is the most important element of SeMS, as an appointed head of security is responsible and accountable to ensure effective implementation and compliance with the requirements of the Air Carrier Security Programme (ACSP).

Employee Involvement

SeMS cannot be successful without the involvement and contribution of all employees of the organisation. They must be an integral part of the security process and they should be aware of their role and responsibilities within the security programme. They are the key resource to the success of SeMS and without their participation and dedication it will not work.

Training and Education

There must be an initial and recurrent security training programme for management and non-management personnel. Some of the most important elements of the training programme include a development of the understanding of the concepts and principles of SeMS, the role and responsibility of each employee, the corporate security policy, the security contingency plan, as well as instruction in the identification and reporting of threats.

Accountability and Responsibilities

Clear allocation of security responsibility and accountability is critical to the effective performance of SeMS. As personnel with different duties, positions and backgrounds must be involved, they have to identify where they stand in the security structure and what is expected of them.

Security Culture

A security culture must be cultivated and all the employees of the organisation, regardless of their position, level or post have to adopt values and attitudes regarding security that include commitment and awareness of any potential threats, and they should continuously behave so as to preserve and improve the level of aviation security afforded.

Resource Management

Resources are the tools of the organisation that will help towards implementing an effective SeMS. There should be procedures to select competent personnel who will be trained and evaluated according to the requirements of the training programme. Personnel should be assessed on their performance on a regular basis and financial resources should be provided by the organisation for the appropriate facilities and equipment in order to achieve the desirable security outcome.


Communication is critical to effective aviation security and, therefore, the performance of SeMS. This includes the dissemination of security information through instructions or bulletins from management to non-management personnel and external service providers. Efficient communication is also essential upstream, from non-management personnel to management, for example, when reporting identified security threats or issues in order for them to be assessed and mitigated.

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