Have you ever wondered what you can and cannot carry on an airplane? How about knitting needles, a wedding dress, ski poles or fried rice?
Lynn Dean has the answers. In her communications role at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), Dean has deployed social media tools to help better inform and prepare passengers to navigate the airport screening process and to give TSA employees a voice in improving how they do their jobs.
“My goal is all about information sharing, whether it’s with the public or employees,” said Dean, a senior advisor to TSA’s deputy administrator. “I want to find ways to educate the public about what TSA does, help people more easily get through security and improve the way we do business.”
Her efforts have included the award winning My TSA mobile application for smartphones that provides passengers with 24/7 access to the most commonly requested TSA information, including what items can be taken in carry-on and checked bags, updates on delays at U.S. airports, packing and traveling tips and checkpoint waiting times at specific airports.
The “Can I Bring” capability of the mobile application, for example, allows users to type in an item they’re planning to bring on a trip to find out if it is permitted. If an item isn’t in the system, it can be submitted for consideration to be added to the app. The list has grown from an initial 800 entries to some 4,000 items since 2010.
Dean also was part of the team that launched TSA’s IdeaFactory, a social networking website that collects and builds on ideas from employees, and serves as a launching pad for improving how agency personnel do their jobs and serve the public. She has also helped start the TSA Blog to facilitate an ongoing dialogue with the public on security, the use of technology and the checkpoint screening process.
TSA Deputy Administrator Gale Rossides said Dean is “great at bringing people across the organization together to look at creative ways to communicate to our own people and to the public.”
“She’s not putting out information in typical government- speak. She translates complex policy issues in a simple straightforward way,” said Rossides. “She is sharing information that people can understand. She makes it real and adds some humor so that the traveling public will understand we are not faceless bureaucrats, but hardworking people seeking to provide a valuable service.”
Dean said frequent questions by users of mobile application include whether a wedding dress can be carried onto the plane, an issue prompted by the destination wedding trend. Dean said the answer depends on specific airline policies, whether the aircraft has a place to hang the dress and how many carry-on bags a customer has with them.
She said there are frequent queries about knitting needles, which are permitted in carry-on baggage or checked baggage, and ski poles, which can be checked, but not brought into the airplane cabin. And while fried rice is permitted, Dean said, it needs to be in a sealed container so it doesn’t spill on the belt of the TSA baggage scanning machines.
Shortly after TSA launched the mobile app, Dean said, many people asked whether they could bring a bomb on the plane. “Most likely, they were playing with the app and wondering if we had it in there. I thought it would be a good idea to capitalize on that, show our sense of humor and provide packing tips,” she said.
So when users enter the word bomb, the mobile app responds: “Not permitted. You didn’t really want to know if you could bring a bomb on a plane, did you? Of course, explosive materials and realistic replicas of explosives are not permitted on a plane. But now that we have you here, keep on reading.” The TSA then provides packing tips for harmless items to avoid setting off alarms, including packing items in layers to give officers a better view and reduce the chances of a bag needing additional screening.
Dean said the Idea Factory has led to a number of improvements regarding communication with the public, including clarification to website content to help parents traveling with children, and guidance on properly packing firearms in checked baggage. It also has led to changes in security procedures, employee training and the uniforms worn by security officers.
Dean said her job is rewarding because of the sense that she is playing a role in making the country safer.
“It’s a challenge every day looking at better ways to do everything that we do,” said Dean. “At TSA, we have an environment where people say, ‘How can we get this done’ instead of saying, ‘You can’t do that.’ We have to do everything we can to keep people safe, so we find a way to say ‘yes.”’
This article was jointly prepared by the Partnership for Public Service, a group seeking to enhance the performance of the federal government, and washingtonpost.com. Go to http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/fed-player to read about other federal workers who are making a difference.