Now more than ever, computers are an effective, affordable option for training airport/transport security personnel. But what is the actual state-of-the-art in computer-based training these days? And how well can this training approach provide the security industry with the qualified personnel it needs in a timely manner?
To find out, Transport Security International (TSI) magazine sat down with three leaders in computer-based training: The Center for Adaptive Security Research and Applications (CASRA); e-Lectio, a part of ICTS Europe group; and STI Security Training International GmbH. Here is what they told us.
What They Have to Offer
We began by asking these three companies about their products/services in computer-based training for airport/transport X-ray screeners and others in aviation/transport security screening areas.
At CASRA, “we do security research and applications with the objective to strengthen security and increase facilitation in X-ray screening,” said Sara Bracceschi, head of consulting and services for customs. This means that CASRA’s software, methods and procedures are built upon scientific research, and are being constantly improved through close collaboration with government organizations, research institutes, and end users. In all, CASRA’s software and applications have been installed in over 50 countries and at more than 900 airports around the world.
As for CASRA’s products for airport/transport security personnel? “Our computer-based training and assessment platform, X-Ray Tutor 4 (XRT4), is the result of studies and scientific investigations carried out over more than 20 years with the focus on cognitive abilities and visual knowledge of the human operator who analyzes X-ray images,” Bracceschi replied. “XRT4 was created to provide an easy-to-use training software that enables X-ray screeners to detect prohibited items quickly and reliably, and increases their visual knowledge about X-ray image interpretation.”
For its part, “E-Lectio is dedicated to the development and delivery of online training solutions to customers in the aviation security sector worldwide,” said Nimrod Matan, the company’s Commercial Director, E-Lectio. Its computer-based training for airport/transport security personnel is delivered through Eagle7, a state-of-the-art Learning Management System (LMS).
“Our e-Learning course catalog covers all training topics required by civil aviation regulations and in particular EU and UK, including (but not limited to) x-ray screeners’ training for cabin, hold baggage, air-cargo and mail,” Matan noted. “Our customer base includes international and regional airports, civil aviation authorities, security companies, police forces, training centers, as well as non-aviation employers of x-ray screeners, in the maritime, government and corporate sectors.”
In order to keep transport security professionals apprised of actual security threats, e-Lectio maintains a massive image library of “threat items”, which grows yearly to reflect recent events and regulation changes. “All of our images are manually created by experts using real-life threat items and real-life luggage, cargo and mail,” said Matan.
Meanwhile, STI has been specializing in image interpretation-based X-ray training since 2001. The company’s training activities are mostly in aviation, but not only,” said Axel Stefan, CEO of STI Security Training. “More and more security checks are also performed in civilian life during sports events, at schools, hospitals, and cultural locations.”
“To [address] these increasing security needs, STI has been continuously developing its own innovative image interpretation CBT (computer-based training) for X-ray screeners,” he added. “Airports, airlines, transporters, supply chain, logistics companies contact us to help them meet their national requirements.”
How These Computer-Based Training Programs Work
X-Ray screening is a complex and important element of airport security. Not everyone has an aptitude for this kind of demanding work, nor the people skills necessary to minimize and manage issues. Therefore, “it is advisable to apply scientifically proven selection tests, such as the X-Ray Object Recognition Test (X-Ray ORT), as part of pre-employment assessment procedures,” said Dr. Adrian Schwaninger, CASRA’s chair. “Not every person has the potential to become a good X-ray screener because certain specific aptitudes and abilities are prerequisites to succeed at this job.”
After candidates have passed this CASRA screening process, “individually adaptive computer-based training (CBT) like XRT4 is a very powerful tool for achieving and maintaining a good X-ray image interpretation competency,” he told TSI. This is because XRT4 trains airport/transport security officers to recognize both common and rare objects seen during X-ray screening. It also trains them to make sense of objects placed in a wide range of positions — both alone and mixed in with other items — viewed in X-ray images of different resolutions and complexities.
Worth noting: CASRA updates their computer-based training content as new threats become reality. “We have an in-house systematic threat assessment team that systematically searches for potential threat scenarios through different sources such as the surface web, deep web, social media, and radical propaganda magazines,” said Schwaninger. “Subsequently, these threat scenarios are evaluated and assessed with regard to feasibility, damage potential and possible mitigation measures.”
e-Lectio’s computer-based training system is hosted on the web using an SaaS (Software as a Service) model. “It includes a comprehensive simulator with an image library of over 50,000 images of genuine luggage, cargo and mail parcels, including threat items of all categories mandated by regulators,” Matan said. Updated yearly, this library has images captured by all leading brands of X-ray screening equipment commonly used in airports. The simulated X-ray machine user interfaces supported by e-Lectio’s software are either machine-neutral or machine-specific, as per customers’ preference.
“Our training program is fully customizable by the training administrator/instructor,” said Matan. “All training parameters are customizable, including number of images, time limit, score formula, difficulty levels of images, angles of threat items, dual/single view, bag rotation, and many more. Furthermore, training can be set to be automatically adapted for each screener according to his or her points of strength and weakness, speed and accuracy. The system also has modules that are dedicated to initial training, practice, certification testing, recurrent training, and re-certification.”
At STI, the company’s X-ray and CT (computer tomography) image interpretation training program OTS (Operator Training System) is customizable, adaptive and based on each customer’s individual environment. As for STI’s computer-based training approach? “To achieve a high-security detection level from the X-ray screeners, you have to get there step by step, with the right trainers, the proper teaching, methods and tests,” replied STI trainer Yvonne Henrich. This being said, “before being able to detect a threat, you need to get the basics,” she noted. “Students need to understand how an X-ray machine works, the meaning of colorization of the images (orange, green, blue), and the functionality of the keyboard. Then you understand the legal framework, and go deeper into the relevant international and national regulations.”
In the STI Xpert modules used for recurrent training, “the system will automatically check the strengths and weaknesses of the trainee, and will adapt the images accordingly,” she added. “So the trainee strengthens her/his skills while training. Moreover, our in-house solution ensures that a certain percentage of the images are renewed each year.”
What Students Are Taught
STI’s Henrich touched on the most vital aspect of any computer-based training system, namely what specifically the students are being taught. So let’s dig into this area of airport/transport security training.
When it comes to CASRA, “our focus is on maximizing the human-machine system performance in X-ray screening and in order to do that, we cover the whole competency life-cycle of X-ray screening from selection, to training to testing,” said Bracceschi. “Once a screener is selected, our training programs tackle image-based and knowledge-based factors, so that the screening officers are able to recognize new and emerging threats and improve their performance level while constantly updating their knowledge.”
To maximize successful training outcomes, an individually adaptive algorithm has been embedded in CASRA’s computer-based training system, so that each screener is trained according to their level and abilities, and challenged in their areas of opportunities — “which makes the training tailored to each trainee and also interesting,” Bracceschi said. “Moreover, our XRT4 solution provides single view and multi-view training, and since 2020 has also provided 3D training.”
Over at e-Lectio, “our program is unique in training X-ray screeners, in that it does not only focus on image interpretation skills but also on practicing how to follow security procedures when dealing with suspicious pieces of luggage,” said Matan. In fact, this training program simulates the end-to-end workflow of security screening, including image interpretation, manual checks (of cabin baggage) and comparison between the airway bill and the X-ray image of the consignment (in cargo).
This company also offers a ‘pre-employment module’ that measures the cognitive and visual-perception related abilities of candidates, predicting their readiness to perform the task of an X-ray screener. “Measured capabilities include numerical ability, problem-solving, spotting errors and inconsistencies, accurately reporting own errors, accuracy and rapidity, attention span, ability to differentiate between more relevant and less relevant information, attention to detail, spatial perception, and color blindness,” Matan said.
As for STI? Its OTS online training platform is designed to familiarize trainees with “the art of X-ray image interpretation,” said Stefan. To do this, “the OTS simulators provide an absolutely realistic representation of X-ray images in everyday airport operations,” Henrich said. “In this way, objects can be identified in the best possible way and everyday objects can be reliably distinguished from potential threats.”
STI’s step-by-step training approach to X-ray image interpretation is designed to slowly increase the complexity and level of difficulty for trainees as they develop expertise in this area. “They are supported at their own individual pace,” Henrich said. “In advanced training, they benefit from an adaptive system that is able to adjust independently to the level and progress of the trainees.”
To make this form of computer-based training productive for airport/transport security staff, STI develops a set of five skills, online at a time. They are:
• Skill 1: Detection of the prohibited items, as a whole or in parts.
• Skill 2: Detection in a fast way.
• Skill 3: Detection in different angles.
• Skill 4: Concentrated and observant, as well as a teamplayer.
• Skill 5: To learn and be able to use the X-ray equipment with all the different functions, and to get the best of the X-ray equipment.
The final step in STI’s training process is to have an X-ray screener identify prohibited items in a fast way and methodical approach, when viewed from different angles. To achieve this level of proficiency, “they learn to focus on visual key factors to detect prohibited items, and to be able to recognize manipulated items in a fast manner,” said Henrich. “Trainees also learn how to detect single assembly parts of all kinds of prohibited items, which can be brought together once in the security-restricted areas, by different persons.”
Examples of Training Success
To close this look into the state of computer-based security training, TSI asked these companies to tell us some ‘success stories’.
CASRA was happy to step up to the plate. “In terms of success stories, we receive feedback on detections on a regular basis from our clients, as a research center,” said Bracceschi. As well, CASRA has worked with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) to compile an international cargo screening study to verify the validity of CASRA’s methodology.
“The rationale for the study was a diffuse industry interest in screener’s performance in relation with the use of computer-based training (CBT) to see the value-add generated by CBT,” Bracceschi said. The results were impressive: “The study demonstrated that substantial improvements in cargo screening performance can be achieved (average of +8% detection and -6% false alarms) through individually adaptive online CBT using XRT4 after an average of approximately only eleven hours of training,” she said,
STI has seen similar levels of success from computer-based security training, which is a source of deep pride to Yvonne Henrich. “From the trainer’s point of view, it is fantastic to convey the complex knowledge of aviation security to people from different age groups, different cultures, from different professions, who previously had nothing to do with aviation security,” she said. “All that within a few weeks — teaching persons and screeners to be confident in all kinds of situations. The training gives me the necessary knowledge and the soft skills to have a friendly and self-confident manner towards the customer, and to adapt.”
This kind of success is being proven daily at X-ray screening stations, where STI-trained personnel are detecting all kinds of potentially dangerous items. “Our screeners have successfully found things like butterfly knives, brass knuckles, and shoes with LEDs that were similar in construction to an explosive device,“ said Henrich. “A funny side of the job is finding sex toys in hand luggage. This can be especially funny if you don’t know what they are, and ask the passenger what they are and what they are for.”
As for the future of computer-based security training? “As technology advances so do the methods used by the perpetrators,” said CASRA’s Schwaninger. “Our goal is to provide services and solutions that help the screening officers face current, new and emerging threats.”
In particular, “concealment methods are ever-changing and new types of contraband and illicit goods are smuggled on a regular basis,” he told TSI. “Our approach to training allows us to provide effective and efficient training measures, so that the screening officers are well-equipped to succeed at detecting security threats and illicit goods while reducing response time. And as technology changes and evolves, so do we, as we incorporate such advances in our solution so that when training, the officers face similar challenges to live operations.”
At STI, “we are seeing the following technology advances,” said Stefan. To cope, the company is enhancing its browser-based training solutions to avoid compatibility issues and speed up the installation process, developing software to assist X-ray screeners for their recertifications, and creating more 3D CT training solutions.
All told, the state of computer-based security training is fully-featured, advanced, user friendly, and constantly being updated and modernized. When it comes to training airport and transport security staff, this is a vital, must-have tool for organizations large and small.