Cover: Efficient Aviation Security

Efficient Aviation Security

Strengthening the Analytic Foundation for Making Air Transportation Security Decisions

Published Aug 21, 2012

by Brian A. Jackson, Tom LaTourrette, Edward W. Chan, Russell Lundberg, Andrew R. Morral, David R. Frelinger


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Research Questions

  1. How can we better assess the costs and benefits of aviation security interventions?
  2. How should historical data on aviation terrorism inform security decisions?
  3. How can we assess security-induced utility reductions (i.e., the phenomenon of security interventions reducing the value of what is being protected)?
  4. How can we better assess how different security measures interact?
  5. How can we better incorporate deterrence into assessments of security measures?
  6. How can we evaluate the tradeoffs between the intended and unintended consequences of a security measure?
  7. Can the benefits of security be estimated validly?

Making aviation security more cost-effective is hampered by a lack of understanding of the costs and benefits of security interventions. Moreover, there will always be considerable uncertainty about terrorists' capabilities and decisionmaking, security system performance, and the tangible and intangible costs of security measures.

This volume focuses on exploring ways to use cost-benefit and other types of analysis to improve aviation security decisionmaking in spite of such uncertainties. The authors present a set of analyses that discuss how historical data on aviation security can inform security planning; examine ways to address uncertainty about the costs of security measures; discuss the ways in which different layers of a security system interact; offer a method for incorporating deterrence into the assessment of security measures via the concept of a risk-reduction threshold, using the Federal Air Marshal Service as an example; examine tradeoffs between intended and unintended consequences of security measures, using a trusted traveler program as an example; and discuss the merits of high- versus low-resolution models of aviation terrorism for informing policy. These analyses contribute to filling some of the current gaps in the assessment of the costs, benefits, and efficiency of aviation security measures and strategies.

Key Findings

Useful Insights About Aviation Security Can Be Derived in Spite of Uncertainties

  • A balanced picture of the future risk of aviation terrorism requires combining what we know of attackers' historical behavior with reasonable consideration of how the future may differ from the past.
  • The costs of security depend on the value of what is being protected — and security measures can lower that value. For the aviation system, if a security measure causes even a slight reduction in passenger demand, it can greatly reduce or even negate the measure's net benefit.
  • Using multiple security layers can lead to diminishing returns, and the benefits of a layered system may also be influenced by interactions among the layers themselves, which may occur in synergistic, security-enhancing ways or in counterproductive ways.
  • Security measures can be assessed using break-even analysis: a calculation of how much risk reduction (including effects on terrorist decisionmaking) a given security measure must provide in order to be cost-effective.
  • The effectiveness of a trusted traveler program could be enhanced by high program participation, which would help to offset the negative effect of some terrorists' being mistakenly accepted into the program.
  • High-resolution models of aviation terrorism can provide value in understanding terrorism risks, but they cannot be validated for predicting future risks or the benefits of new security systems. High-resolution models can be used to develop more transparent, low-resolution models that can be used to communicate risk and the effects of deep uncertainties about risk to decisionmakers and oversight authorities.

This monograph results from the RAND Corporation's Investment in People and Ideas program. Support for this program is provided, in part, by donors and by the independent research and development provisions of RAND's contracts for the operation of its U.S. Department of Defense federally funded research and development centers.

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