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OR and Air Security

Operations research has been getting a lot of press recently due to a study about the effectiveness of “no-fly” lists in preventing terrorism. Long-time researcher of airline safety, Arnie Barnett along with Harvey Mudd professor Susan Martonosi found, using OR models of course, that it is best to screen all passengers, rather than try to pre-screen so-called safe passengers. Here are some excerpts from the LA Times:

Operations research is a little-known but valuable tool for such things as scheduling airline flight crews, planning National Football League seasons and even designing waiting lines at Walt Disney World. And in a report released on Monday, it was used to assess the effectiveness of the nation’s security screening of airline passengers.

Using a mathematical model, Susan E. Martonosi, an assistant professor of mathematics at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, and Arnold Barnett, a professor of management science at MIT, sought to explore the effectiveness of the “no-fly” lists in preventing terrorism. The conclusions they reached were less remarkable perhaps than the way they evaluated the program.

They found that improving the screening required of all passengers at security checkpoints would do more to enhance security than further refinements to the pre-screening of passengers by no-fly lists.

Here is a presentation on the topic.  Check out your December issue of Interfaces for the full paper, along with a number of other papers on homeland security.