Transport security measures - attitudes and acceptability trial at Heathrow Express
|Publisher:||Department for Transport|
|Publication type:||Research report|
|Published date:||24 June 2008|
|Mode/topic:||Rail, Security and resilience|
After the bombings that took place on the London transport system on 7th July 2005, the Department for Transport (DfT) tested potential options for new transport security measures for the rail and London Underground networks. As such, a new security screening system was trialled on the Heathrow Express (HEX) platforms at Paddington National Rail station in mid January through to early February 2006. The screening equipment consisted of a millimetre wave body scanner and baggage x-ray machine. The equipment was housed in an enclosed screening facility that aimed to ensure privacy and confidentiality for passengers and operators.
During the trial, four to five passengers, selected at random, were screened for every journey bound for Heathrow Airport. The aim was that the body scanner would take approximately two seconds to screen each passenger and that the process in its entirety would take less than two minutes. The images produced by the scanner would be viewed only by the monitor operator, who was not able to see the passenger as they were being scanned. The images were to be deleted immediately after analysis. Passenger baggage was put through a separate x-ray machine and the contents examined by trained operators. Only male security agents dealt with male passengers and female security agents with female passengers. Passengers selected for screening had the right to refuse to participate in the trial and nobody was to miss their train as a result of taking part.
The overarching aim of this research was to assess public responses to the process of security screening. The specific objectives were three-fold and were to:
- explore the public’s views on security screening;
- investigate people’s reasons for finding security screening acceptable or unacceptable;
- explore under what circumstances security screening is seen as acceptable, if at all.
Twenty in-depth interviews were conducted with respondents who agreed to the security screening. Five in-depth interviews were also undertaken with respondents who defined themselves as being disabled in relation to set criteria, but who had not participated in the screening trial. One-to-one was considered a suitable approach for the respondents with disabilities due to the potential sensitivities involved.
The sample was designed to ensure coverage of the key sub-groups within the target population, in order to identify and explain variations in the nature of experiences and views between them. Quotas were set to ensure the inclusion of participants of different demographic backgrounds according to the following key variables: gender; age; social class; ethnicity; religion; regularity of rail use; and disability. Twenty-five respondents were interviewed in total.
Group discussions were carried out among people who had not participated in the security screening trial. As with the sampling of the in-depth interviews, quotas were set to ensure the inclusion of participants of different demographic backgrounds according to the following key variables: gender; age; social class; ethnicity; religion; and regularity of rail use. Twenty group discussions were carried out in total and consisted of between four and six respondents.
Initial views of screening equipment
- There were respondents who had no knowledge of the trial prior to participating in the research and had little idea of what to expect from the screening equipment.
- In instances where respondents had some awareness, information regarding the trial of the security measures had been seen on the news and in newspapers. There were however respondents who had not understood from either written or broadcast news that the security measures involved a body scan, but imagined equipment to be similar to the metal detectors used in airports.
- A range of views were expressed after respondents had seen the equipment for the first time, with respondents considering the equipment to be aesthetically uninviting, daunting, futuristic in appearance and, in contrast, unsophisticated.
Experiences of screened respondents
- Screened respondents generally felt that their selection for the trial was based upon their appearance.
- Selection was generally thought to be due to: the respondent’s ethnicity; the respondent appearing suspicious; the fulfilment of a selection quota; and the type of luggage that the respondent was carrying.
- There were respondents who had no objections to being selected to participate in the trial. However, not all respondents reacted so positively; some described feeling embarrassed and angry on being selected. This was especially so for those who had experienced being selected for security checks in the past. Black respondents, in particular, felt negatively about the experience , as did 18 to 24 year olds.
- The security screening process itself (as opposed to selection) was generally considered to be acceptable by respondents. The length of time spent being screened was largely felt to be satisfactory; respondents were generally pleasantly surprised at how quick the process was. However, respondents did comment that they would have welcomed knowing how long the scan would take before taking part in the trial, in order to feel more informed about the process. Sharing this information with respondents on selection might have had the effect of appeasing them prior to the scan.
- However, despite largely positive feedback regarding the scan itself, there were occasions where respondents described feeling intimidated during the body scan and as such disliked the experience.
- Respondents generally required more information after being screened. This is a key issue as there was evidence to suggest that respondents might have felt more positive about the trial and the screening procedure had they been given more information. The information required centred on four areas: the selection process; the nature of the screened image; what the equipment was screening for; and the technology used by the scanning equipment.
- There were mixed views regarding the acceptability of the images produced by the scan. Male respondents and also older respondents generally felt that the image produced would pose very little invasion to their privacy.
- However, female respondents, particularly in the younger age groups, were more likely to voice their concern over the nature of the screened image and queried whether the equipment would be able to scan beneath their underwear.
- There were also instances where the body scan was considered unacceptable on religious grounds by female Muslim respondents.
- Respondents essentially felt uninformed regarding the level of detail captured by the images. There was evidence to suggest that the image might be less of a concern if respondents were better informed about the nature of it. However, this may not be an option because the screened image is undisclosed for security purposes.
The selection process
- The selection process adopted for the trial was the cause of much debate among respondents. They were generally suspicious of the concept of random selection described to them by screening staff as they felt that adopting such a process allowed those staffing the equipment to act on their own prejudices when selecting people.
- Ideally, respondents felt that screening should be compulsory for all in order to avoid prejudice during selection. Whilst it was conceded that this could cause delays, it was seen as fair and would prevent people feeling embarrassed and possibly humiliated when selected.
- Whilst respondents ideally saw everyone being screened, it was widely felt that, if used by all commuters of a particular train service, the scanner would cause large delays due to the perceived waiting times involved. This was a key concern for both those who were screened and those who were not. Such delays could lead to people missing their trains and, as a consequence, possibly their flights too, due to the trial being situated at the Heathrow Express platform. This was generally seen to be frustrating and ultimately unacceptable.
- This view was magnified in instances where respondents had mobility problems and required ample time to board their train.
- Respondents suggested that rail users would need to be notified of such security measures if they were to be made permanent, in order for people to allow themselves extra time to be screened so that they did not miss their train or flight.
Health and safety concerns
- There were respondents who accepted that the scanning equipment did not use x-rays and as such assumed it was safe and that the equipment would have been tested to ensure its safety prior to the trial.
- However, there were respondents who were concerned about the possible adverse effects of being subjected to such technology; respondents queried what they had subjected their body to after participating in the trial and described how they would be particularly concerned about the effects of the technology if they had to be screened on a regular basis.
- Disseminating information regarding the safety of the technology used would help alleviate the publics’ concerns.
The role of the British Transport Police (BTP)
- Respondents considered the role of BTP officers as protecting the public by dealing with potentially dangerous situations, if they arose, such as if someone was found to be carrying explosives.
- There were respondents who felt reassured by the police presence at the screening equipment, especially those in the older age group, as it was felt that the officers’ presence acted as a deterrent from terrorist activity.
- However, there were respondents who felt the BTP presence to be intimidating. Young black male respondents, who had experienced what they considered to be humiliating police stop and searches in the past, were especially concerned.
The possibility of security equipment being introduced on respondents’ own journeys
- Respondents generally struggled to envisage how the screening equipment would work on their most regular train journeys, as it was felt that the screening procedure would cause huge delays to peoples’ journeys. This was particularly emphasised by those who did not go through the scanner and also those that travelled regularly.
- Respondents suggested that informing people when and where these security measures would be in place would help to appease the public as they would be able to plan their journey to account for the screening time.
- Respondents, particularly females, described feeling reassured if such equipment were to be used on the journeys they undertook. However, it was thought that this would only be the case if screening was compulsory for all. However, it was conceded that compulsory screening for all travellers would cause inevitable delays due to the perceived waiting times involved. Concerns regarding selection and practicalities therefore created a conflict of interest.
- Respondents would also feel safer regarding petty crime, as the screening equipment might have a deterrent effect for these types of crimes. As such, information explaining the intended purpose and use of the equipment might be necessary.
- It was widely felt that the equipment might be more acceptable at the busiest National Rail stations, as these stations were considered to be at a greater risk of terrorism.
- Correspondingly, there were respondents who felt that the screening equipment was less of a priority at smaller, more suburban National Rail stations as they were thought to be at less risk of terrorist attacks due to the relatively small numbers of people using such stations.
- It was generally felt that, with continued use, the public would grow accustomed to the new security measures.
Suggestions for changes and improvements to transport security measures
- Respondents felt that ideally, in order to be effective in catching or deterring terrorists, the screening equipment would need to be situated at all overground and underground stations. Respondents also suggested that the equipment should be developed so that it could scan a number of people at any one time and whilst they were on the move. Such a measure was considered more efficient than the body scanner as it would be able to scan groups of people at any given time. Therefore it would minimise queuing and potential delays.
- Suggestions were also made for alternative security measures. They included: metal detectors; greater police presence; the use of sniffer dogs; enhanced measures for the London Underground and bus network; and chemical detection.
- Respondents who were not scanned generally felt more wary and expressed greater criticism of the equipment than the scanned respondents. Therefore, if the scanning equipment were to be implemented on a more permanent basis, the research findings suggest that people would have fewer concerns regarding the scanning procedure itself as they became familiar with its presence.
- A particularly contentious issue raised was the need for secrecy surrounding the scanned image, which led people to draw various conclusions about what it might be, and more pertinently, why it needed to be concealed. For some respondents this was a cause for concern, particularly those who had not been scanned, suggesting again that by becoming familiar with the equipment people may feel less threatened by it.
- Particular issues that concerned both screened and unscreened respondents were the selection process, and the potential journey delays perceived as inherent to it. Essentially, it was felt that screening should be compulsory for all in order to avoid prejudice during selection and people feeling embarrassed and possibly humiliated when selected. Compulsory screening for all was also felt to be the only way in which the equipment could be truly effective.
- However, it was conceded that compulsory screening for all travellers of a particular train service would cause inevitable delays due to the perceived waiting times involved. Concerns regarding selection and practicalities therefore created a conflict of interest, which respondents felt ultimately could not be resolved with the screening equipment in its current form.
- Respondents therefore felt that the equipment would have to be developed in order to remedy the perceived problems regarding delays caused by compulsory screening.
- Enhanced security on the transport system was considered imperative and respondents made a variety of suggestions for alternative security measures. However, essentially there was uncertainty as to how security screening could be put into practice on a wide-scale basis.
This corroborates survey findings which indicated that a higher proportion of black respondents would never accept random body searches as an additional security measure on the London Underground compared to Asian or white respondents (Department for Transport, to be published 2006, Public attitudes to transport security issues following July 2005 London bombings.