25 January 2010

Mystery Guy in MUC - False Alarm

It seems that the chap who caused the alarm in MUC last week was a hapless traveller who did not realize that he had caused the alarm. It is highly likely he was not a German speaker so did not understand what was said to him. According to news reports German authorities have concluded that a man whose laptop triggered a security scare at Munich airport last week was a harmless passenger.

Part of a terminal was closed for hours Wednesday after the man left a screening area with his laptop, which had triggered an alert for possible explosives, without waiting for officials to check it again.

The regional government said Sunday that video footage showed him wandering from the screening area to a duty-free shop. It said he apparently didn't know he caused the alert. He was evacuated along with other passengers and then went through security again -- this time without trouble -- several hours later. The scare embarrassed authorities. Germany's interior minister has promised a thorough investigation.

I will say again that the decision to empty the terminal when the security people "lost" the passenger was the right one. However the handling of the situation shows that more care and thought needs to go into the process.

In security management there is a constant battle of finding the bad guys with "false positives". The notion of false positives - ie how many good guys do you capture along with the bad guys makes the process of identification pretty tough. When new security or heightened security measures are introduced they typically are panic driven addressing the latest threat(s). Just like some of the really stupid ideas post the Christmas Underwear Bomber.

We have all been lulled into sense of "security" that there are so many layers that it must be impossible to breach them. So in effect the focus has shifted from smart thinking to efficient execution. This is VERY DANGEROUS. We need to be smarter than the bad guys. So far we have not demonstrated that. And we need to do a better job.

Remember we retain a degree success only because the other chaps have not been smart enough. It shows however that there is no perfect solution and more importantly there there is no fixed or permanent solution.

Remember - Security is dependent on all of us.


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