detection efforts at airport terminals and other hubs of transportation are simultaneously experienced as comforting and as costly, inefficient, irritating, and invasive. The use of high-tech identifying and truth-detecting devices may have similar alienating effects. Surveillance of telephones, credit records, and personal movements in the interests of security also raises serious questions about privacy and civil liberties. The systems perspective that should be used to determine criteria for deployment of technologies must embrace this reality as well; there are many ways to remedy the vulnerabilities of our nation’s critical infrastructures, and the best solutions must reflect a balance between the desire for security and human values.

Often, the weakest part of the system is the (frequently neglected) human link. Overlooking the human element can make it more difficult for staff members to do their jobs and, ironically, significantly reduce the effectiveness of the security technologies. In the worst case, the entire system may be rendered useless. Thus, human-centric design and an improved understanding of the factors that contribute to systematic human errors are essential.

Most people are inherently helpful and dependable and are responsive in the face of unforeseen circumstances. We must take into account their strengths—the attributes that no technology could duplicate—while avoiding, to the maximum extent possible, the creation of jobs that are tedious and unrewarding. This must be a basic element of our systems approach. We need to allow for defense in depth (multiple layers) to compensate for human error, of course, but good system design should be characterized by human roles in which vigilance and interest are heightened, thereby making errors less likely.

Such human factors in design must apply equally well to the operators of the security system and to those who encounter it.


The nation’s capabilities for pursuing an expanded and coordinated S&T agenda for the crosscutting technologies identified in this chapter are considerable. A number of programs with broad applicability to these technologies have already been established within DOD, DOE, NSF, and NASA, and relevant research is under way at these agencies, in the national laboratories, and at scores of research universities. For example, in recent years, as concern about terrorism has grown and as the post-Cold War powers have focused on safeguarding nuclear materials, the DOE national laboratories have already begun researching sensors and other detection technologies, as well as data management, visualization, and modeling pertinent to counterterrorism. The DOE laboratories also have expertise in both the physical and biological sciences, as is needed for such crosscutting R&D initiatives, and are performing advanced work in the key fields of

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement