TSA officers go for gold at TSA Olympics in Illinois

Monday, September 13, 2021
Team O'Hare photo

Fresh from the Tokyo Olympics, TSA officers in Illinois competed in their own 2021 Olympic games. However, it wasn’t a physical challenge like the Olympic events you saw on TV.

It was a competition of TSA threat detection and screening operations knowledge between officers from Chicago’s O’Hare (ORD) and Midway International Airports and officers from downstate Illinois.

Steven Brown, ORD Deputy Assistant Federal Security Director for Threat Assessment programs, said the TSA Olympics, also known as the Illini Classic, was designed to test officers’ knowledge in several rounds – a multiple-choice test, X-ray and bag check, checkpoint operations, and then the final round, which was based on a Jeopardy game format with threat detection categories.

TSA Olympics Jeopardy board photo
The final round of the TSA Olympics was Jeopardy, using this game board. (Photo courtesy TSA Illinois)

“The goal of the Olympics was to create a program where [TSA officers] are encouraged and engaged in training through friendly competition that achieves a more operationally aware [officer] who is rewarded for excelling in their threat detection knowledge, skills and abilities of checkpoint/baggage operations,” said Brown. “There is no better way to train than by challenging officers to be the best and when they are really engaged, want to learn and be the best. By challenging them, you bring out the best in all the officers who compete.”

Ayad Hasan, a baggage supervisory TSA officer at ORD, was among the participants, calling the experience an eye opener.

“It was great to be able to use years of training, critical thinking skills and technology in ways to achieve an end result,” said Hasan. “Being [a supervisor], I’ve always challenged and encouraged officers to better themselves, to participate in activities where their skills and knowledge will be tested and honed.”

Hasan said the Olympics program reinforces the fundamentals of screening and why officers are here. “It also allows officers from different certifications, who normally wouldn’t work together, to see different perspectives,” said Hasan. “It also makes you actually research information, reread the standard operating procedures (SOP) and TSA websites to add more tools to your toolbox.”

The downstate Illinois airports won the competition, representing:

  • Chicago Rockford International Airport
  • General Wayne A. Downing Peoria International Airport
  • Quad Cities International Airport
  • University of Illinois - Willard Airport (Champaign-Urbana)
  • Central Illinois Regional Airport (Bloomington-Normal)
  • Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport (Springfield)
  • MidAmerica St. Louis Airport
  • Veterans Airport of Southern Illinois (Marion)
  • Quincy Regional Airport
  • Decatur Airport
Winning team photo
Members of the winning TSA Olympics team from downstate Illinois. Also pictured are downstate Deputy Federal Security Director Jeffrey Hardacre (far left) and Chicago Federal Security Director Dereck Starks (far right). (Photo by Herbert Mays)

It also took a team effort to run the TSA Olympics. Angela Couch, Frank Linchester and Brett Murphy of O’Hare, Kenneth Sander of Midway and Melissa Collins of Rockford coordinated this year’s event. Couch and Murphy created the 2021 games.

University of Illinois – Willard Airport Supervisory TSA Officer Shatiana Walton, who was on the winning team, called it a challenging but rewarding experience, allowing her to apply her SOP knowledge in a friendly competition which helps build morale.

“It promotes and challenges me as an officer to want to become more knowledgeable of the SOP,” noted Walton. “The more knowledge I obtain, the more confident I am in operating screening functions, being used for network engagement and ultimately becoming a model officer.”

“The TSA Olympics highlights the importance of our focus on threat detection, which directly supports the Administrator’s Intent of goal number one, Improve Security and Safeguard the Transportation System,” Brown assessed. “It demonstrates [our] commitment to enhance our workforce’s knowledge and awareness of the current threat and their techniques. Secondly, the Olympics add to the creation of a dynamic work environment for our employees where they have continuous opportunities to develop their knowledge and skills, demonstrate their abilities and be recognized for their performance.”

Hasan and Walton strongly encourage TSA teams from other airports across the country to consider holding a similar competition.

“I highly recommend the TSA Olympics competition,” said Walton. “It would be pretty awesome to engage and network with fellow officers nationwide.”

Hasan added, “Hype it up. Hype it up. I think this competition is great for airports and should be held at the national level, just for bragging rights and to encourage some much needed esprit de corps.”