Could you design a better queue?

The Transportation Security Administration is looking for ways to speed folks through security. Its Pre-Check program has already won praise from many frequent (and not so frequent) travelers — but it wants to do better.

As part of that, they are asking for the public’s help in redesigning airport security lines. If you can design a better checkpoint, there’s some cold hard cash in it for you, with at least $5,000 to the winner — and up to $15,000.

Here’s how they describe what they’re looking for:

“TSA is looking for the Next Generation Checkpoint Queue Design Model to apply a scientific and simulation modeling approach to meet the dynamic security screening environment. The new queue design should include, but not limited to the following queue lanes:

– TSA Pre✓™
– Standard
– Premier Passengers (1st class, business class, frequent fliers, etc.)
– Employee and Flight Crews
– PWD (wheelchair access)

The Challenge is to provide a simulation modeling concept that can form the basis to plan, develop requirements, and design a queue appropriately. The concept will be used to develop a model to be applied in decision analysis and to take in considerations of site specific requirements, peak and non-peak hours, flight schedules and TSA staffing schedules. Solvers are expected to provide the concept and provide evidence that it works as described in the requirements.”

Got that?

As someone who once worked managing lines at Disneyland, I remember the challenge of deploying queues to accommodate the hordes of guests that jammed the park’s various attractions — in this case, The Haunted Mansion. I wasn’t always very good at doing the calculations (I once boxed 50 people in and a supervisor had to come and free them). There really is a science to managing crowds.

The TSA’s contest is part of a broader effort to use crowdsourcing to solve a variety of problems. Scientists have used crowdsourcing to catalog bugs. An online game called RNA Lab, invites people to dabble in molecular engineering in hopes of finding a cure for cancer.