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OM in the News: Can You Help TSA Shorten Security Queues?

July 29, 2014
TSA checkpoint in Atlanta

TSA checkpoint in Atlanta

In anticipation that more fliers will be eager to pay for expedited checkpoint screening, the Transportation Security Administration has promised to award $15,000 in cash prizes to whomever can design a faster waiting line system, reports Nextgov (July 18, 2014). The competition is on InnoCentive, a website for crowdsourcing solutions to problems, which enables individuals and teams to submit proposals. “There is a guaranteed award,” the contest overview states. “The total payout will be $15,000, with at least one award being no smaller than $5,000.”

The challenge aims to solve expected problems with TSA PreCheck, a program where passengers who undergo a background check and pay $85 get access to fast lanes that don’t require removing shoes, coats, liquids and laptops. “Current queue layouts at TSA Pre✓ airports will need to adapt to support the increasing population of TSA Pre✓ passengers,” the competition states. “TSA is looking for the Next Generation Checkpoint Queue Design Model to apply a scientific and simulation modeling approach to meet queue design and configuration needs of the dynamic security screening environment with TSA Pre✓.” TSA also is asking for approaches that would help speed standard, “free” waiting lines.

Competitors must supply a proposal that considers physical logistics, peak hours and staffing schedules, among other constraints. The “line” extends from the point where a passenger joins the end of the queue to the metal detector or body scan machine. Wait times cannot be more than 5 minutes for PreCheck and 10 minutes for standard lines. Also, the model should enable TSA to apply a “Computer Aided Design drawing to define the physical space available for queuing.”

Competitors are required to provide an animation of a computer screen that shows passengers flowing through lines. It must display real-time reporting during the animation, and allow a user to pause a simulation run when necessary for analysis or evaluation. What a great example of a complex, real-world queuing problem to ask your students to discuss!

Classroom discussion questions:

1. Why is TSA turning to crowdsourcing?

2. What ideas do you have for speeding the lines?


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