Logo: University of Southern California

TSA Testing GUARDS Airport Security System at LAX and PIT

A USC Viterbi School/CREATE team recently delivered the system to the Transportation Safety Administration for final evaluation

May 27, 2010 —

An enhanced system to randomize airport security activities is now in pilot operation at Los Angeles (LAX) and Pittsburgh (PIT) International Airports by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

TSA Program Manager Erin Steigerwald, left, with Milind Tambe. Other Viterbi School members of the GUARDS team include Chris Kiekintveld, Manish Jain, James Pita, Harish Bellamane and Bharat Patel.
The DHS Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate funded the development of the Game theoretic Unpredictable and Randomly Deployed Security (GUARDS) system as an improvement on the randomization tool TSA currently uses to make security measures and schedules unpredictable to observers.

Work on GUARDS is being done by the University of Southern California’s National Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events (CREATE), led by Professor Milind Tambe of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, in close cooperation with TSA and DHS S&T.

The USC team delivered a near-final version of GUARDS recently, and TSA is now making final evaluations. Success could result in TSA replacing its current tool with GUARDS in airports nationwide.

According to Tambe, “the goal of GUARDS is to choose a risk-efficient randomization of all unpredictable security related activities at airports, preventing observers from recognizing patterns in security procedures. GUARDS will use sophisticated software and game theory to determine high payoff targets for adversaries and produce randomized security assignments that maximize coverage with available security assets.

“This project will reduce the chance that adversaries, including insider threats, would be able to predict where the security assets are located, which specific personnel are staffing them and where they may be able to slip through undetected. The capabilities of the GUARDS system can be applied to any environment that could benefit from randomized assignments such as power plants, ports, transportation centers and any facility that employs security procedures,” Tambe concluded.

The present GUARDS effort builds upon an earlier USC-developed software system known as Assistant for Randomized Monitoring of Routes (ARMOR) and TSA’s existing unpredictable security program. Currently used by the Los Angeles World Airport’s Police Division, ARMOR provides law enforcement officers with an automated capability to randomize K-9 searches and vehicle checkpoints at Los Angeles International (LAX) Airport.

Though effective for specific applications such as K-9 assignments, ARMOR lacked the capability to deal with the much larger TSA challenge of randomizing security activities throughout an entire airport’s security infrastructure. GUARDS addresses these challenges,  Tambe said.