Security goes AWOL

One of the more visible changes since 11th September 2001 that many of us experience is the heightened security at airports and at public events.

There have been sustained and serious efforts to ensure public safety. Yet a BBC production brings into question the extent to which corporate culture is undermining security measures…

I’ve just watched a fascinating – and disturbing – documentary on television – a BBC production which involved a journalist going undercover as a security agent at Manchester airport in the UK, to investigate security breaches claimed by a whistleblower.

Using hidden cameras, the documentary showed:

  • Records of bag check records being deliberately falsified by staff to satisfy management requirements, in some cases being done with management being fully aware of the practice
  • Understaffed security access points where no-one was monitoring bags at the conveyer belt
  • Staff being forewarned of ‘covert’ visits by Department for Transport staff whose role was to check the efficiency of security
  • Planes on the runway being left unattended and unlocked overnight with stairs leading up to the door

As I watched this, I was concerned at a number of levels. It was not long ago that I was at Manchester airport – which was an immediate concern! At another level, it reminded me of the power of UGRs as the driver of people’s behaviour – even in the face of people doing vitally important work.

Security staff at Manchester Airport had lost sight of the inherent value of their work and were being driven by UGRs that, by my reckoning, included:

Around here, management are more serious about saving money than they are about security
Around here, get the job done with minimum fuss and you’ll get by
Around here, paper work is merely there to keep other people happy, so we keep them happy!

Now I’d hazard a guess that when they began their job, very few of the security staff foresaw themselves as being driven by UGRs of the kind noted above. But as a consequence of management behaviour, and to a lesser extent other staff, people fall into the ‘UGRs-line’ of working.

When the journalist in the BBC programme while still under cover as a staff member, confronted a mid level manager with her concerns, the manager went through the motions of listening and demonstrating
concern. But a few days later no action had been taken by this manager.

UGRs are that powerful!