For a team of interns from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), airport security is more than a stop between drop-off and departure—it is a powerful countermeasure they helped put in place. Over three years, more than 30 interns worked on developing the Airport Risk Assessment Model (ARAM), a web-based tool that helps airport security stakeholders prioritize the use of their limited resources based on evolving threats and risk.
“It is an incredible opportunity to provide input to something that you can see make a difference,” said Robert Brigantic, ARAM project manager and PNNL chief operations research scientist. “Every one of these interns made a significant contribution to ARAM and developing the science and technology that is improving security at our nation’s airports.”
As millions of people travel through our nation’s airports every day, diverse security assets combine to keep them safe. ARAM can determine where and when to best allocate those resources with the push of a button. PNNL developed ARAM in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Transportation Security Administration and piloted the technology at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Along the way, the project welcomed support from PNNL interns specializing in modeling, mathematics, data analytics, and more, and ranging in education from undergraduate students to post-bachelor research associates, doctoral interns, and U.S. Air Force Academy Cadets.
“The ARAM project challenged me with career growth opportunities from the start. I implemented the initial prototype tool in Excel, participated in and often led discussions with airport security stakeholders and government agency sponsors, and proposed related advanced technologies and methodologies to help keep people safe,” said Nick Betzsold, who joined the ARAM team as an undergraduate intern and is now a data scientist in PNNL’s statistical modeling and experimental design group. “The ARAM project made it easy to feel the positive contribution I was providing to the community and provided immense job satisfaction, ultimately serving as a catalyst for me to pursue a data science career at PNNL and additional opportunities to positively impact aviation security.”
“It was fascinating to learn how the broad concept of risk can be modeled and quantified, incorporating both spatial and temporal aspects, in an attempt to make airports more secure,” said Anna Jarman, a National Security Internship Program technical intern pursuing a Bachelor of Science in mathematics from Carroll College.
“Contributing to the strategic artificial intelligence and real-time concepts for ARAM was both challenging and rewarding,” said Jonathan Mills, an intern pursuing a doctoral degree in applied physics at Alabama A&M University. “The robustness of ARAM allows deployment of current mitigation strategies, while providing a framework to build a secure future upon, of which I am proud to have been a part.”
Most recently, the interns helped PNNL host a two-day stakeholder symposium that took a deep-dive into how the web-based tool can improve security resource allocation planning. Feedback from the symposium will be used to drive future improvements in the technology.
PNNL welcomes hundreds of national security interns annually through a suite of programs, including the Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship program, National Security Internship Program, the Safeguards Internship Program, and the Minority-Serving Institution Partnership Program for the National Nuclear Security Administration. Interested students can learn more at the PNNL STEM Internships website.