SFO Opts for Computer-Based Security Training

Mark Lang
Published in: 

Airport employees use home computers for everything from filing taxes to checking movie listings. Why not use computer-based programs to fulfill their training requirements at work? With more than 19,000 people to qualify in security awareness and clearances, San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is doing just that.

SFO Opts for Computer-Based Security Training

By passenger volume, SFO ranks as the 13th busiest U.S. airport, according to preliminary 2007 figures from Airports Council International (ACI). Run by the mayor-appointed Airport Commission, the facility has 1,200 direct employees; tenants have an additional 18,000. That’s a long roster of names needing security training. To help handle the daunting volume, the airport uses the computer-based Interactive Learning System by SSI (Safety & Security Instruction) to teach curriculum and administer quizzes and tests.


Employees log into a portal from standard desktop computers and are granted varying degrees of access, based on job title and training needs. Courses are downloaded from the airport’s server and all data is protected by SFO’s firewall. Trainees listen to curriculum lessons on headphones and respond to quiz and test questions with a touchscreen or mouse. A proctor provides initial instructions and supervises each session — providing assistance and clarifying misunderstandings, but not divulging answers. Students are allowed to take and refer to notes during the instructional phase; then they have three opportunities to pass their tests.

Currently, about 98% of SFO employees pass. Some say it’s easier to stay engaged with the interactive computer than with traditional classroom lectures or videos. Many prefer learning at their own pace.

Kim Dickie, assistant deputy airport director, Aviation Security, considers computer-based training a “great tool with great benefits”. She cites the system’s capability to track training records on a detailed basis and the ability to integrate records with other data collection requirements for badge ID information as key benefits.

Lorraine Bockmier, Aviation Security operations supervisor, anticipates updating the computerized material to reflect regulatory changes will be much faster than producing new videos and other materials for “live” presenters. She also appreciates the easy-to-print completion certificates the program provides.

Currently, SFO offers three computer-based courses: Security Identification Display Area (SIDA) training, non-movement area driver training and security awareness training, which is required for all employees without access to the Air Operations Area. In total, the airport’s Aviation Security Department trains an average of 450 applicants each month.

Volume is up dramatically since the airport began using computerized training — from a maximum of 24 employees per week to 140 employees. “In the past, we were able to schedule one class of eight students per day, three days a week,” says Bockmier. “By using computers, we now offer classes for up to 10 people three times per day and twice on Thursdays”.

This summer, the airport plans to add 10 more computer workstations, effectively doubling its capacity.

SFO’s project manager, Marilyn Daniels, and her team took the lead on crafting the specific scope of applications; SSI developed the actual applications. SSI president, Lorena de Rodriguez, reports that her company is developing similar programs for about 10 other U.S. airports. Topics include airfield driver training, customer service, operational changes in security and others.

Concession and revenue development tenants were the first airport employees to use the new online system. In April, about half of all airport employees were using it. The next phase will include other tenants such as airlines, and airport and federal agencies. Having a standard set of programs for both airport employees and tenants’ employees will be a major benefit. Eventually, SFO plans to expand the computer-based program to completely replace its existing “train-thetrainer” method of traditional classroom delivery. After the entire airport population switches, Bockmier plans to assess how the new teaching method affects the number of security violations.

The learning curve associated with converting to computer-based training has been relatively easy to manage at SFO. According to training office manager Chris Ogbuli, computer problems have forced the airport to revert back to instructor and video presentations with paper testing only once.

Facts and Figures

Owner: San Francisco International Airport (SFO)

Type of Project: Computer-based training

Designers: SSI and SFO Information Technology and Telecommunications Division (ITT)

Cost: $150,000

Implementation Time: 12 months

The Need: SIDA, Security Awareness and Non-Movement Area training for new airport employees

As with any new program, especially one involving sensitive materials and access issues, the badging office at SFO performed a comprehensive review before beginning live testing with real students over an extended period. Doing so helped identify problem spots concerning questions and information.

In the future, SFO is considering using SSI systems for training employees about the airport’s recycling program. It may also take advantage of the program’s multi-lingual features. “Since English is not a first language for many airport employees, it can be a learning factor,” notes Bockmier. Computer-based training could help remove that impediment. 


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