Binghamton University researchers improve baggage screening


    When Binghamton University faculty members Sarah Lam and Mohammad Khasawneh fly, each focuses on a different aspect of the check-in process. She likes to check out the X-ray images of her bag. He observes the baggage screener and where his or her eyes move.

    Their interest stems from a research project that’s still in its infancy. It focuses on ways to improve the efficiency of baggage screening at airports, in part by making better use of computers to train X-ray operators. With the potential of making baggage screening faster and more thorough, the project could be good news for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) as well as travelers.

     Lam, an associate professor of systems science and industrial engineering, specializes in system modeling, simulation optimization and neural networks. “Baggage screening remains the last line of defense for air travelers against terrorists,” she said. “Therefore, a systems approach that considers human factors and intelligent training will be used to model the selection, training, certifying and monitoring of baggage screeners at airports.”

    The project would integrate the components of airport security systems, including humans, equipment, machines and information systems, along with support from the physical and organizational environment.

    Khasawneh, an assistant professor of systems science and in LAMdustrial engineering, focuses on human factors in engineering and design. “Since this research will lead to a greater understanding of aviation safety issues, we see this area as both challenging and rewarding,” said Khasawneh.

    In the spring of 2004, Khasawneh and Lam began talking about a simulation that would encompass the flow of baggage and people through an airport. The idea was to bring a systems approach to an entire airport security system. They quickly found that the scope of that project was too large for two people to tackle and decided to zero in on the baggage-screening portion of the process.

    “Even with advances in screening technology, the performance of the human operator that uses these sophisticated machines remains a significant component in the entire security system,” Khasawneh said. “That’s why we decided to focus on the operators’ ability to detect threat objects such as knives or guns with an emphasis on intelligent training.” Lam and Khasawneh now hope to evaluate how much information human operators can absorb at once and determine the optimal way for the computer to present information.

     Lam and Khasawneh say the next step is to line up at least $400,000 or $500,000 to get the project off the ground. Because the Government Accountability Office cited weaknesses in the TSA’s training for checked baggage screening in a recent report, they believe their work may attract federal funding from the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Aviation Administration or the National Science Foundation.

     They could also partner with a local company on research that would lead to a product that could be commercialized. “This research,” Lam said, “will lead to more secure airports for the flying public.”

Last Updated: 9/17/13