Ports gear up to test TWIC readers

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Monday, January 18, 2010

LOS ANGELES—Following the mandated card-deployment part of the Transportation Worker Identification Card program in April of 2009, several ports around the country are now preparing to test the biometric element of the program. However, there remains significant concern that implementing the fingerprint reader component to the TWIC program could significantly impact the flow of commerce.

The Port of Los Angeles, one of only a handful of ports who will conduct field tests of the biometric card technology, will help determine if this system is effective and what impact there might be on ports, said Jill Taylor, deputy director of homeland security at the Port of Los Angeles.

So far, the distribution of TWIC cards to those accessing secure areas of ports – from longshoremen to truck drivers – has had minimal impact on POLA’s operations, she said. “It was relatively smooth when we went live in April,” she said. “There were no bumps or bruises as far as the port was concerned and terminals all felt it went smooth as well.”

The Port of Los Angeles is currently working with three of its tenant terminals to field test the readers. The port selected three diverse terminals – a cargo terminal, a cruise ship terminal and a liquid bulk terminal – to test the impacts of the TWIC system. Those terminals are currently in the process of selecting fingerprint readers to install.

Adam Kiesel, a director customs and border security group for Unisys, the field test program manager for the port and its tenants, said it is critical for each terminal to understand the technology and what best suits individual access control needs.

“These terminals have been forward thinking about how to use this solution and it’s not just a matter of hanging up a TWIC reader,” he said. “They have to think about processes and the impact and it’s taking a little while, but they’re making the right decisions and going through the RFP process and should be testing soon.”

On the top of the list of concerns regarding the implementation of this technology is the amount of time it takes to process each card holder. An important part of these field tests will be to determine how long these readers take to process each individual and if that processing time will have an impact on the overall flow of commerce at ports.

Both Kiesel and Taylor estimate the terminals will begin field testing in April or May of this year. Until the field tests get underway, it’s hard to determine what impact, if any, the TWIC program will really have on port operations.