Another False Alarm Prompts Another Mass Evacuation

from the rough-day dept

Travelers in Atlanta had their day wrecked Wednesday when a computer glitch prompted the evacuation Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. In hoping to keep bag screeners alert, the TSA will occasionally insert an image of a dangerous looking package, just to see if the screener is paying attention. It’s supposed to be followed by a message saying the image was a test. Unfortunately, the warning never came, and thus the decision was made to evacuate the airport. Massive evacuations, prompted by false alarms, seem to be regular occurences. It’s a good thing that security workers are kept on their toes, and caution is always seems wise, but major disruptions to people’s lives every time suspicion is aroused will start to test people’s tolerance for strong security. Furthermore, when faced with the fact that something suspicious will trigger such a dramatic response, people (passengers and screeners) will be less likely to say or do anything. As security expert Bruce Schneier puts it, security failure is inevitable, but when it does fail it should fail gracefully. For the time being, security, when it fails, fails miserably.

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Comments on “Another False Alarm Prompts Another Mass Evacuation”

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smokebreak6904 says:

On The Job Training?

I can see using a system as such as benificial in training a screener, but when we pay as much as we do for “safe” travel……is it feesable to train while customers are waiting to travel. If I was evacuated and delayed due to a glitch in their training system, Id be furious. In an enviroment as busy as a airport, dealing with professionals traveling, and high-dollar business people, not to mention everyone else -time is money. If I wasn’t in a hurry to be someplace i would take the train. I hate sue happy people, but “class action” comes to mind. With the revenue airlines make, they should train off-facility on their time, what next airline mechanics getting on the job training. I want to be a nuclear engeneer……could i get some no skilled positoin and get trained while im working the job please?

Howard (user link) says:

A place I used to work had lots of false alarms...

About ten years ago, I worked for a small semiconductor manufacturer. They had high-temperature ovens, and used various noxious gases, so it was not unusual to have a fire alarm go off occasionally. Usually it was a false alarm, but I had the attitude that it was better to leave the building unnecessarily than to take a chance on getting my hide fried. Each time the alarm went off, I would walk calmly to the nearest exit, without hestitation.

On one occasion, the director of HR was standing at the front door, turning folks back and saying that it was a false alarm, and everybody needed to go back to work. I told her that she didn’t have the authority to countermand a fire alarm, and that if she didn’t get out of my way, she might get hurt when I walked over her. She backed down (and got out of my way with exceeding bad grace), and several of the other folks that she had tried to turn back decided to follow me. As it turned out, it was NOT a false alarm; there was an electrical fire in one of the manufacturing areas, and there where a couple of severe injuries. I had occasion several times before I quit there to remind her that one of the rules was that whenever I wanted to leave the building, I got to leave the building, and I didn’t need a reason. She knew better than to try to give me any grief about that.

Z says:

Not training just TESTING?!?!

It didnt say they were training anyone it was just to make sure the screeners are paying attention… and 2nd the airlines dont train the screeners thats your Federal Government hard at work remember they took it over after 9-11… thats nice to know someone can remotely change the image since our government got an “F” on their network security tests…

Bob says:


Testing employees is a normal thing to do when safety and finance are at risk when responsible parties slack off.

I’ve had the opportunity to work for a major national airline (ground operations) and for United Parcel Service, loading semis at one of their hubs.

This is a quote from someone else talking about UPS:

“The loading process is often interrupted by something called “salting.” The trucks are loaded by a list of zip codes. The loader has to check each parcel to make sure its zip code is listed for that truck. Supervisors intentionally throw in packages, some times multiples, with the wrong zip code. If the loader misses any of the “salt”, he must break down the truck until it is located.”

This happened to me a couple times a week. If I was paying attention and doing my job, I’d see it, glance over my shoulder to see a supervisor waiting to see if I caught the SALT package. If not, he’d say, “Better go find it!” and then describe the package and actual destination.

This is the same thing that happens in airport security, but for a different reason. But the problems arise when the fall-back isn’t forthcoming. If my supervisor never tells me he salted me and I was being lazy there’s now a package addressed to Los Angeles that is buried in a trailer in Cerritos, CA (less than an hour’s drive to Los Angeles) destined for Tennessee by ground, it’s going to be three weeks before the package gets to it’s intended recipient. See, the package won’t be returned by air, because when it gets to TN, it’ll be offloaded and so to the sorters, who will simply see a UPS Ground box going to Los Angeles and it’ll be loaded on a truck to LA. The only thing taht will help the situation is if that trailer gets audited when it gets to TN, then they’ll notice that an LA parcel was erroneously loaded onto a TN truck. At that point the LA parcel gets next-day aired to LA, still 8-10 days later than expected and I get warned about my accuracy. But it’s admittedly difficult to load at 800 parcels an hour (I could fill a 48-foot trailer in a 3-4 hour shift) and maintain 100% accuracy. We tend to trust that Primary Sort and Secondart Sort have properly done THEIR jobs and might not check EVERY parcel’s destination when we’re not loading the boxes fast enough.

Granted the situation in an airport isn’t the same, but the reasons for spot checks are justified. If a lazy or inattentive screener misses that Colt .45 in the old man’s carry on, who the hell knows what’s gonna happen. Maybe he’s just transporting it to his grandson as a college graduation gift or maybe he’s tired of life and bitter and intends to blow a hole in the pressurized cabin at cruise altitude and then kill himself. The only way to not find out the hard way is to make sure things don’t slip through. When a screener works a shift a day for months and never finds any prohibited items, the screener may become complacent, thinking, “I guess people have wised up to the new restrictions and aren’t risking trafficking contraband.” That’s when a terrorist is gonna get lucky and sneak his boxcutter onto a plane.

False alarms are a small price to pay considering the alternative. Consider it a drill with extra realism. Granted, the fact that it’s a test needs to surface rather quickly to avoid having to evacuate an entire airport terminal, but I’d rather my arrival be delayed a few hours than precluded altogether. know what I mean?

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