Dallas Fort Worth Int’l Bolsters Employee Security Screening Program

Dallas Fort Worth Int’l Bolsters Employee Security Screening Program
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Efficiency and efficacy are the watchwords for employee security screening at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW). The guiding objective is to detect potential threats without causing undue inconvenience for workers, and DFW is using new technology located in purpose-built spaces to balance the two intertwined goals.

Its new system—the result of a two-year, $25 million project—first verifies, then screens workers and their belongings in about the same time it takes for a standard identification check. The system establishes a new standard for airport security with a combination of walk-through body scanners, X-ray scanners for personal items and automated ID verification and facial recognition technology.

Insider threats became a prevalent topic throughout the industry about 10 years ago following a series of high-profile incidents that included weapons smuggling, drug trafficking, baggage theft, etc. Troubled by the trend, DFW implemented physical security screening for employees six years ago, using walk-through machines and other equipment available at that time. Given the evolving nature of technology, screening processes varied at multiple entry points across the airport’s five terminals and 27-square-mile campus.


Project: Employee Security Screening

Location: Dallas Fort Worth (TX) Int’l Airport

Cost: $25 million

Implementation: Feb. 2022–Summer 2024

Key Components: Walk-through body scanners; X-ray scanners personal belongings; e-gates; ID badge scanners; facial recognition cameras

Walk-Through Security Scanners: Rohde & Schwarz

Dual-View X-Ray Inspection Systems: Smiths Detection

X-Ray Artificial Intelligence Software: SeeTrue Autonomous AI Detection

eGates: dormakaba Argus Air Security e-Gates

Access Control Cameras: IDEMIA Vision Pass

Key Benefits: Reduced risk of insider threats; enhanced throughput due to automation & walk-through technology

When developing improvements for the program, Executive Vice President of Operations Chris McLaughlin followed the advice of former TSA Administrator John Pistole: Provide the most effective security in the most efficient way. “From the day he told me that, it’s been a personal mission to make it happen, and that’s what we’re doing here at DFW,” says McLaughlin. 

Exceeding Requirements

With that goal in mind, DFW strives to prepare early for forthcoming security requirements. In April 2023, TSA issued an Airport Security Program National Amendment (TSA-NA-23-02), which will require U.S. airports to adopt physical screening procedures for employees with access to secure-side areas. While no one debates the value of mitigating insider threats, industry organizations and some individual airports have expressed serious concerns about the costs and logistical challenges the new unfunded mandate would entail.

McLaughlin and other DFW leaders had a different take on the matter. “We wanted to get ahead of those requirements and put a system in place that not just met the expectations of the federal government but actually exceeded those expectations,” he explains. “What we’re really doing today is ensuring consistency across the campus, so both our screening workforce, as well as the employees coming to work every day, can have a consistent experience in their screening process.”

The airport partnered with industry mainstays such as Smiths Detection, dormakaba and Rohde & Schwarz to bolster its existing system. “By addressing insider threats through comprehensive employee screening, DFW reinforces its security framework with an additional layer of protection,” comments Joe Kennedy, key account manager with Smiths Detection.

In fact, Kennedy considers DFW an industry pioneer for integrating employee security screening. By doing so, it is providing the highest levels of safety and security for its passengers, staff and infrastructure, he notes.

Recent improvements to employee screening are also related to DFW’s selection for One-Stop Security, an international pilot program designed to expedite the flow of connecting passengers and their baggage by eliminating the duplication of security controls/processes at transfer airports. The key to the program is ensuring and verifying that participating airports use equivalent security measures. In the course of qualifying to participate in One-Stop Security, DFW made commitments to the U.S. and foreign governments regarding employee screening.

Going High-Tech

Employee security screening at DFW now involves three phases: identity verification, body scanning and scanning personal belongings. All three leverage current technology to provide the airport with a highly effective, streamlined process. “We’ve partnered with some really progressive companies that are allowing us to really lean forward into employee screening,” McLaughlin comments.

The multi-tier system includes dormakaba Argus Air e-gates equipped with IDEMIA Vision Pass cameras, which combine facial recognition and badge verification technologies to automatically open screening portals for verified employees. If the e-gate and cameras cannot verify an employee’s face and badge, the gate doesn’t open.

Once inside the individual portals, DFW employees divest their belongings onto HI-SCAN 6040 DV X-ray inspection units from Smiths Detection to detect threats in backpacks, insulated lunch bags, etc.

To further enhance X-ray inspection capabilities, DFW opted to add Autonomous AI Detection, a software system from SeeTrue, that uses artificial intelligence to help operators recognize potential threat items. Items that are flagged as suspicious are then manually inspected by a security officer at the other end of the X-ray inspection system.

As their belongings ride through the X-ray machine, employees use a QPS Walk2000 walk-through scanner from Rohde & Schwarz, with low-frequency millimeter wave technology, to check for metallic and non-metallic threats. Workers familiar with the equipment and process typically complete their screening in about 20 seconds, McLaughlin reports. “We’re getting end-to-end bag and people screening plus identity verification in roughly the same time it would take an employee to pass through a simple access door with two-factor authentication,” he says. “It’s a really, really exciting evolution for us.”

Naturally, there is a slight learning curve. For instance, workers need to practice positioning their faces in front of the camera, walking through the body scanners at a natural pace and sending their belongings through the X-ray machines. Luke Olsen, business development manager with Rohde & Schwarz, says that employees at DFW learned the new system quickly. “How people will adapt to change is always a concern with doing something new, and they’ve adapted rather well,” he reports.

Better Walk-Through Technology

In recent years, people had to hold their arms up in the air and/or pause briefly when using a walk-through body scanner. Although those requirements only added a few seconds to the process, the cumulative total added up quickly when hundreds or thousands of airport employees needed to be scanned. Also, previous scanners required security officers to select a male or female option on the monitor before a person was scanned.

Rohde & Schwarz developed a gender-neutral approach with detection software and capabilities that allow employees to pass through its scanner with their arms down and swinging naturally at their sides. “Our system generates about eight images a second as a person walks through, and in real time, those images are being evaluated behind the scenes by detection software that’s been trained using artificial intelligence approaches to detect objects like knives, guns and explosive material that could be hidden within or underneath a person’s clothing,” Olsen explains. By the time an employee walks out of the scanner, that data has been analyzed and the result is returned to the system.

If the scanner detects anything it deems suspicious, a red light illuminates on the exit end of the scanner and a monitor displays the approximate location of the item in question on a body silhouette. If nothing suspicious is detected, the system clears that person to enter the terminal. “We’re adding an extra layer of security, helping to improve safety, and doing so without disrupting the flow of people who need to get to work,” Olsen remarks.

Over the past year, Rohde & Schwarz refined its original system to eliminate the need for employees to remove their ID badges, metal nametags, belts or jackets. This may seem minor, but it saves time and increases throughput. “Originally, our software was alarming on those objects, but we collected data with the airport and updated our detection software to not recognize those types of objects as threats,” Olsen explains. “So now employees can keep those items on them as they go through.” 

The Rohde & Schwarz equipment also supports continuous scanning, which reduces the workload on security staff. “They can focus on watching people and making sure they’re not behaving suspiciously or doing anything wrong,” says Olsen.

X-Ray Imagery

Smiths Detection, which provides the machines that screen employee belongings, is a familiar supplier for DFW. The firm also provides passenger and checked bag screening equipment to the airport.   

Kennedy and other company leaders emphasize that high-quality X-ray images with exceptional clarity help identify potential threats. In addition, sophisticated software algorithms from SeeTrue Autonomous AI Detection help operators quickly and accurately analyze images.

E-gates from dormakaba and IDEMIA cameras combine facial recognition and badge verification to control access to the screening portals.

Many of the X-ray equipment and AI detection features focus on streamlining the employee screening process. Dual-view technology provides comprehensive images from multiple angles to reduce the need for re-screening. “With a common user interface across our operator platforms, training burdens are minimized, fostering operational efficiency,” Kennedy remarks.

From a project logistics standpoint, Smiths Detection units run on standard 120-volt power, which eliminates the need for major infrastructure changes. The systems also can be integrated with existing airport security systems.

Factors to Consider

Finding adequate space in the right location can be a challenge for airports that want to add or enhance employee security screening. Popular configurations include checkpoint-style setups that resemble TSA passenger checkpoints and enclosed rooms with multiple scanning systems to accommodate high-volume needs. There is no one-size-fits-all solution that will work for every airport. But whatever the format, space is needed for manual physical searches, and efficient flow is crucial.

“In our case, we’ve been able to construct purpose-built rooms at each of our terminals where employees can quickly be verified, can quickly have their body and their bag screened, and process through in just a few seconds,” McLaughlin comments. “We’re fully integrating those systems into the fabric of our terminals.”

As a large airport, DFW spent more than $25 million to convert existing space into nine dedicated employee screening rooms (at least one in each terminal). McLaughlin considers that a reasonable spend, given that so many of the 36,000-plus badged people working at the airport need to be screened. “Each one of those represents time and money for their employer, so there is an ROI for us,” he notes.

McLaughlin appreciates that DFW’s procurement rules do not require him to select the lowest bids for security projects. “So, we have handpicked companies that deliver the absolute best security proposition for us and our employees,” he remarks.

To staff its nine screening stations, the airport uses a combination of internal employees and a third-party security company. Screening employees receive extensive training to learn how the highly automated systems work.

Another factor to consider when adding an employee screening program is how (or if) the new technology components will integrate with systems already in place. Rohde & Schwarz walk-through scanners, for example, are designed to operate independently, but they can be connected to a network for remote monitoring and centralized management of multiple machines.

The new program at DFW is designed to be highly effective from a security standpoint, but also to create the best possible experience for workers being screened. “We’re customer-obsessed, and that includes our internal customers—our employees,” emphasizes McLaughlin. “So we have put systems in place by design that are user-friendly. When an employee is coming to work, the last thing we want to do is ruin their day before it even starts.”

Employee belongings are screened by X-ray machines from Smiths Detection. SeeTrue software uses artificial intelligence to flag suspicious items for manual inspection.

The project team considered various mobility levels within the workforce when designing the portals and specifying equipment such as ADA-compliant e-gates. That being said, accommodations are sometimes needed due to the capability of existing technologies. For instance, wheelchairs will trigger alarms in the body scanners, just as they do at TSA passenger checkpoints.

Overall, Olsen reports that workers have given positive feedback about the process and technology. “They like the simplicity of it, how easy it is,” he says.  

Insight and Advice

After DFW’s employee screening rooms were built and the equipment was in place, airport leaders didn’t simply proclaim a start date for the new security procedures. In January through March of this year, the project team held a series of open houses and discussions to introduce the program to employees. The purpose was to teach workers about the equipment so they could successfully walk through it in a single pass, but the airport did not rush the process.

“We’ve been able to take a slow approach because we already have screening in place,” McLaughlin comments. “Both the international pilot opportunity, as well as the TSA mandate, are still somewhat in the distance, so we have time to get it right.”

The project team found that it took most employees three times through the screening checkpoint to fully master the process.  

“We spent an awful lot of time on change management, and anyone who introduces new security processes should, too,” McLaughlin advises. “Don’t underestimate the need to focus on change management.”

Kennedy, from Smiths Detection, encourages airports interested in adding a similar screening program to lean on their equipment providers. “It’s essential to leverage the expertise of security teams and adopt solutions tailored to specific site conditions,” he says, adding that Smiths Detection develops customized and scalable screening programs that align with distinct operational needs. “We look forward to collaborating with airports to design and deploy this critical initiative, ensuring the highest standards of security and efficiency are achieved.”

On that note, McLaughlin encourages other airports to do their homework on potential partners. “Make sure that you really understand how their systems work, and how effective and efficient they are,” he suggests.

Rohde & Schwarz emphasizes the value of continuous improvement. The more data the company can collect, the more variations the software will be able to recognize. “We’ve been more than happy to have a customer like DFW that’s been willing to work so closely with us and provide us that critical feedback of where we need to shift our focus to make improvements,” says Olsen. “It’s resulted in a better product that fits the mission more, and it’s going to only get better.

“By training the software continuously, we’re constantly able to not just reduce false positives, but also increase the detection capability as well. So, we’re going to continue to work with DFW and other airports, if they’re willing and able, to make enhancements to our product.”

Olsen encourages airports interested in implementing worker screening programs to engage with local TSA leaders to make sure their plans comply with the intent of the national amendment. He also suggests asking equipment manufacturers questions about how the various technologies work.

“Airports like DFW are more than happy to let [other airports] come take a look and see how they’re doing it,” Olsen adds. “And I’m sure other airports would do the same for other solutions they may be working with.”

One key to the success of the employee security screening program at DFW has been the collaboration between the airport and the tech partners involved. “I think what I’ve really enjoyed about working with DFW is they’re a true partner,” Olsen remarks.

Finally, McLaughlin reminds airports that one size truly doesn’t fit all when it comes to employee screening systems. “Our solution won’t fit well for small airports,” he says. “It would just be too expensive, and it will be overkill.”

Coming Up

This year, DFW is celebrating its milestone 50th anniversary. As it does, several projects are in the works. Plans include:

  • adding piers to terminals A and C;
  • building a new Terminal F;
  • improving vehicle roadways; and
  • rehabilitating one of the airport’s seven runways.

“There’s a tremendous amount of work going on at DFW,” McLaughlin comments. “All of it is great work and sets us up well for the next 50 years.”


2022 Charlotte Douglas International Airport Report of Achievement

Giving back to the community is central to what Charlotte Douglas International Airport and its operator, the City of Charlotte Aviation Department, is about, and last year was no different. 

Throughout 2022, while recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, we continued our efforts to have a positive impact on the Charlotte community. Of particular note, we spent the year sharing stories of how Connections Don't Just Happen at the Terminal - from creating homeownership and employment opportunities to supporting economic growth through small-business development and offering outreach programs to help residents understand the Airport better.

This whitepaper highlights the construction projects, initiatives, programs and events that validate Charlotte Douglas as a premier airport.

Download the whitepaper: 2022 Charlotte Douglas International Airport Report of Achievement.



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