More than 1.17 million maritime and transportation industry workers now hold the federally mandated Transportation Workers Identification Credential (TWIC). Just getting underway is the task of certifying one or more electronic readers to verify the given card contains the biometrics of the presenter at the terminal gate.
The open-ended field review of several biometric card readers began in March with the publication in the Federal Register of an Advanced Noticed of Proposed Rulemaking by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Department of Homeland.
The agencies are also considering dividing port facilities and vessels into three risk categories – two of which would be required to use electronic devices to read the biometric information from the wireless credential. Port facilities deemed to fall into the lowest-risk category would use the credential primarily as a visual identification badge.
Another proposal under consideration would allow up to 14 workers with credential at each port to have regular and recurring unescorted access to secure areas of the port, the Federal Register notice said.
Several electronic readers have already gone through lab testing, and a pilot evaluation process is now being implemented at the Port of New York and New Jersey, The Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, California, the Port of Brownsville, Texas, and also in cooperation with three very different maritime entities: Magnolia Marine Transport, a Vicksburg, Mississippi-based barge and tugboat operator, Watermark Cruises, in Annapolis, M.D., and the Staten Island Ferry in New York.
“Having seen what the readers can do in a controlled situation, we want to see how they perform in extreme and varied conditions – the heat and cold and salt air that they’ll be expected to operate in day in and day out, if chosen,” said Greg Soule, spokesman for the Transportation Security Commission, a division of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
There is no date certain for when a determination on the readers will be announced, but maritime industry officials said they are anticipating a wait of at least 18 months, while some federal officials said it could be up to two years before a preferred list of readers is released. All Soule would say was that the pilot programme will continue “until we have enough information for the Coast Guard to issue a final reader rule.”
The Transportation Workers Identification Credential came to pass as part of a package of security legislation passed by Congress in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. The government spent US$108 million refining the idea before a single card was issued, Soule said.
The TWIC, as the card is known, is a tamper resistant ‘smart card’ containing a biometric template of the holder’s 10 fingerprints. A total of 1.2 million workers in the maritime transportation industries – anyone who requires unescorted access to secure areas of the port – are required to obtain the card, which costs US$132.50.
Included in this population of card holders are all Coast Guard credentialed merchant mariners, port facility employees, longshoreman, truck drivers and stevedores. Enrolment was phased in at 3,200 maritime facilities and for 10,000 vessels over an 18-month period, making the TWIC programme the largest ‘smart card’ initiative in the world, Soule said.
“It’s added a significant new layer of security to America’s ports, and the fact that it’s gone so well, with very minimal disruptions in commerce, is a huge security win,” he continued. “Now, Americans can be assured that the folks who have unsupervised access to these vital centres of commerce are not known terrorist threats.”
Commander Dave Murk, the TWIC programme manager at the Coast Guard’s Washington headquarters, said the relative smoothness in the first phase of implementation was due to a concerted effort to engage the port community in the process. “We sought out the industry’s comments and recommendations, trying to ensure that we got this right,” Murk said. “In fact, it was the industry that prompted us to break the proposed rule in two, dealing with issuance of the cards first, and the readers second.”