Port of Galveston director says escort system is safe
GALVESTON, Texas—In the wake of a complaint this week from the executive vice president of the International Longshoreman’s Association, the director of the Port of Galveston defends his facility’s security surrounding the use of “escorts” for those who arrive minus necessary identification.
Benny Holland Jr., who also is a Port of Galveston governing board trustee, said he’s looking for tougher restrictions on the use of escorts for truck drivers and others who arrive at the Texas port without proper biometric ID from the Transportation Worker Identification Credential program.
Port Director Mike Mierzwa said that while he understands Holland’s concerns the port is strictly adhering to federal regulations.
“As port director, I am trying to balance security with the facilitation of commerce,” Mierzwa told Security Director News. “We feel that given the training that we provide the escorts and the oversight we have of individuals being escorted on to port property, we’re doing what we need to do.”
Escorts receive training from the port police, he said. “Granted, you’re not going for your Ph.D in escorting, but we do sit down and go through the Code of Federal Regulations with them and also warn them that you can’t bring people on the port and then leave them.”
That’s happened a couple of times, he said, and those escorts were terminated. “At the end of the day, if the Coast Guard comes down here and finds someone unescorted on the port, we’re going to be subject to a pretty healthy fine. We want these (escorts) to know they better have insurance for their business, because we’re going to come after them to pay that fine,” he said.
Such incidents haven’t occurred lately, he said, and the port’s roving police patrol is on the lookout for unrecognizable people.
Holland told the Galveston Daily News that some private firms tout their escort services as a way to circumvent stringent screening. Although the escort is required to have the proper credentials, the arrangement does nothing to keep people from entering a port, Holland said. “I can go up there without a TWIC card and pay someone to escort me on a facility and be a terrorist or undesirable,” he told the newspaper. “That is defeating the purpose—walking up and being escorted on without any background check.”
Attempts by Security Director News to contact Holland this week were unsuccessful.
Mierzwa said he understands that Holland is looking out for his constituency. “They’re thinking, we’re the good guys, and we had to go spend $130 for a TWIC, and now you’re letting someone come in who hasn’t done that,” he said.
Escort rules vary from port to port, according to Joseph Lawless, chairman of the security committee for the American Association of Port Authorities. Lawless told Security Director News that at Massport, for example, where he is director of maritime security, only Massport Police can serve as escorts.
“If you showed up at a Massport terminal in Boston and you had a TWIC, just because you have a TWIC doesn’t mean you’re going to get on the property,” he said. “And we’re very strict with the escort provision.”
The escort regulation is subject to interpretation by individual ports, but is also reviewed by the U.S. Coast Guard, which administers the TWIC program along with the TSA, Lawless said.