Testing of biometric-enabled access readers for Transportation Worker Identification Credentials (TWIC) is underway at the Port of Brownsville in Texas, the first of several marine facilities in the country that are undertaking multi-phased testing effort to assess how well portable and fixed reader technologies work in the business operations and security regimes of port operators and vessel facilities.

The nationwide deadline for workers at all U.S. seaports to have their TWIC credentials for unescorted access to secure areas is today although several ports, including Los Angeles/Long Beach, Houston/Galveston and others, have until May 13 due to the need to add enrollment capacity at those locations.

At all seaports and marine facilities regulated by the Marine Transportation Security Act of 2002, TWIC compliance will be enforced with random checks using visual inspections and identifications. The ultimate goal of having the reader technology is to add another layer of security at the nation’s port facilities. This is expected to be accomplished through a combination of fixed and handheld TWIC card readers to authenticate credentials, ensure the card and the cardholder go together, and to save manpower in terms of not having to manually inspect the smart cards at access points to secure areas.

The Early Operational Assessment (EOA) of portable and fixed readers–both indoor and outdoors–at Brownsville began in late March and will continue through several series of three week blocks to test different aspects of the smart credential and reader technologies, Robert Lott, CEO of Sec-Ops, Inc., a small Texas-based systems integrator that installed the readers and related infrastructure for the port, tells TR2.

The readers for Brownsville pilot are being acquired from Sagem Morpho, a business of France’s SAFRAN Group, for the portable and fixed applications. For now Brownsville is using 13 outdoor readers, the OMA521 Outdoor device, one indoor reader, and 2 handheld units, the Morpho Check. Eventually, Lott estimates that between 130 and 140 more readers will be needed to cover the port.

The port, which is only three miles from the border with Mexico, covers 48,000 acres, including 17 miles of channel leading in from the Gulf of Mexico. Sec-Ops is integrating the TWIC system as part of a larger security upgrade for the port that includes a wide area surveillance and alert notification system.

Prior to the start of EOA the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) evaluated a number of fixed and handheld readers in the Initial Capabilities Evaluation (ICE), which is part of the first phase of the TWIC reader pilot. Currently there are 17 different readers from eight vendors on the approved ICE list.

In the Initial Technical Testing phase, which includes the ICE evaluations, there are also more formal laboratory tests to assess functionality as well as performance against environmental requirements such as freezing rain, humidity, and shock vibration and more, Maurine Fanguy, TSA’s program director for TWIC, tells TR2.

The EOA phase has two main components, one is making sure that the reader equipment and related infrastructure is installed and configured properly and the other is making sure it is functioning properly by putting it through daily use scenarios, Fanguy says. During those daily use scenarios different aspects of the card readers’ functions will be tested such as the fingerprint identification and the cardholder unique identifier (CHUID), Lott says. There will also be some data collection on throughput at the various access points, he adds.

Integration Challenges

Installing the readers, at least in the case of Brownsville, was more than just a simple matter of hanging them at access control points and connecting them to existing wiring. Lott’s company laid over five miles of fiber optic cabling in under four weeks as part of the communications infrastructure for the more advanced access control system, which included connections between the readers and the physical access control system.

An auditor with the Government Accountability Office who came to observe the installation and use of the TWIC readers “left with his chin on the ground” due to the complexity of the enterprise, Lott says.

Praise for Sagem

Lott weeded through the readers on the ICE list before settling on Sagem’s products. One of the difficulties with the approved readers is that TSA’s testing wasn’t very “in depth,” Lott says. The readers weren’t tested in all modes and not as part of a physical access control system, which creates challenges in itself, he says.

“We’re the only access control system that doesn’t have middleware talk with the readers in the pilot,” Lott says. This was a requirement of his. “The more software you add the more problems you run into.” He says his approach has sped read times by over three seconds to less than eight for card validation, CHUID check and biometric validation combined.

Even Sagem’s readers needed to be tweaked to work at Brownsville but Lott praises the company for its support in helping get the job done. He said the readers that he had looked at from various vendors “failed his tests” for selection but that Sagem knew its products and “were willing to meet my requirements.”

Lott is also impressed with the Sagem readers’ performance so far. Some of the environmental challenges at the port include strong winds, blowing dirt and salt, he says. Black particulate matter blowing off the some of the industrial equipment gets all over some of the readers, completely covering them, including the fingerprint sensor, Lott says. But that hasn’t prevented the technology from working as needed, he adds.

Lott says that John Schwartz, TSA’s assistant director for TWIC, was visiting the port and put his finger on a dirty reader and it worked. He says that surprised the TSA official because there are times a clean reader has trouble identifying his fingerprint.

In addition to Brownsville, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, including the ferry operator Catalina Express, and New York/New Jersey are also participating in the reader pilot. The Staten Island, N.Y., Ferry, Water Mark Cruises, a small passenger vessel operator in Annapolis, MD, and Magnolia Marine, a towboat operator in Vicksburg, Miss., are also participating in the pilot.

Fanguy expects L.A. to enter EOA next. New York, New Jersey and Long Beach are finalizing their plans in terms of the participants within their ports, she says. Testing with the vessel and ferry operators, where the focus will be on the use of the portable readers, is expected to begin this summer, she says. Testing at each port and facility will likely vary based on the complexity of each, she adds.

Following EOA System Test and Evaluation will begin, which will test different pilot usage scenarios such as visual card inspections, CHUID signature verification, CHUID and biometric verification, and CHUID and biometric verification along with card authentication. This is basically putting the equipment “through its paces, just as a port would day to day,” Fanguy says.

The government’s final report to Congress on TWIC won’t be due until two years from the start of the pilot test. Under the SAFE Port Act of 2006, a final rule on reader regulations can’t be published until after the pilot testing is completed. Late last month the Coast Guard issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which discusses the service’s preliminary thoughts on rules and regulations for the use of TWIC readers by port facilities and vessel operators.

Under the proposal facilities and vessels that are deemed low risk would use visual inspection methods of TWIC cards at all Maritime Security levels, with electronic verification used for inspections and spot checks. In the middle risk group, ports and vessels would use different modes of electronic read capabilities depending on the security level. The higher risk facilities would perform biometric match and verify the authenticity and validity of the card at each entry at all security levels, according to the proposal. Comments on the proposal are due by May 26.

As for adding additional readers to the ICE list, Fanguy says that TSA is readying another call to vendors shortly to begin a new round of testing.