Port Security & Technology: TWIC and Container Scanning

Jun 11, 2014, 12:05PM EST
Port Security & Technology: TWIC and Container Scanning
A Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs (HSGAC) hearing on port security raises questions about both TWIC and container scanning. Both technologies work; they are proven and should be implemented – as soon as is possible.

There is no doubt but that the long road to adequate port security, especially in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, has been fraught with missteps, questionable decisions, and in some cases, poorly spent money. Along the way, mandates for 100 percent container scanning for inbound cargo and a universal transportation worker identification (TWIC) card have been issued. And, if you’ve been following the endless onslaught of trade media coverage, then you know that neither technology works, neither is practical, and that the requirements for both should be rescinded. You’d also be wrong.

 

Both initiatives – in the initial absence of anything remotely resembling the technology to produce the desired results – have resulted in remarkable equipment fully capable of fulfilling the needs of the port security stakeholders. Without a doubt, it took a while. The TWIC effort was particularly flawed from the start, on many fronts. In both cases, it took a leap of faith from those actually producing the technology – and spending the money with no promise of any return on investment – to move forward in the face of sometimes daunting opposition and naysayers. But, they did. And, here we are.

 

  • Weighing In

A bevy of maritime security stakeholders testified last on Wednesday at a Congressional Hearing on Port Security at the Dirksen Senate Office Building. What they had to say was predictable and not particularly earthshaking. Comments and testimony touched on all the usual hot button issues – TWIC, scanning, port security grants and of course, money. But, can you really put a price on port security? I don’t think that you can.

 

Separately, this week, the federal provision that requires 100 percent scanning of all U.S.-bound maritime cargo for radiological and nuclear threats was extended for an additional two years. DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson made the decision to extend the deadline in a letter last month. Johnson said in a prepared statement, “I have personally reviewed our current port security and DHS's short term and long term ability to comply with 100% scanning requirement. Following this review, I must report, in all candor, that DHS's ability to fully comply with this unfunded mandate of 100% scanning, even in long term, is highly improbable, hugely expensive, and in our judgment, not the best use of taxpayer resources to meet this country's port security and homeland security needs.”

 

I think that the DHS decision is a mistake. But, hey, what do I know? Even the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) has joined with 70 other organization to support DHS’s recent two - year waiver of the federal requirement that 100% of containers be scanned overseas. In prepared testimony released this week, AAPA said, “DHS has carefully reviewed the requirement that all cargo be scanned overseas before being loaded onto a U.S.-bound ship and has concluded that this mandate is unworkable. We ask Congress to look at the long-term viability of this mandate.”

 

At the same time, AAPA believes more robust use of card readers would result in increased security. The current proposal only requires facilities that handle Certain Dangerous Cargos and high passenger volumes to use readers. AAPA believes this requirement for readers is too narrow. On that score, I agree with AAPA.

 

  • TWIC

The technology needed to efficiently and accurately use the TWIC cards as intended, does exist. West coast based terminal operator SSA Marine – whose affiliates operate more cargo terminals than any other company in the world – operate their own proprietary TWIC Card reader that they say actually works, and is deployed in more than one of their terminals. We first reported on this technology in the 4th quarter 2012 edition of Maritime Professional print magazine.

 

Between May 2012 and May 2013 SSA recorded over one (1) million TWIC card transactions at its Terminals in Long Beach. Employing 33 Electronic Readers at their terminals, the access turnstiles fire in less than 2 seconds, and according to Campbell; in Biometric Mode in under 4 seconds. Of these 1 million TWIC Card Transactions, they’ve taken 6 months of data from the Pier J TWIC Beastbox System, which employs 13 electronic readers to show how the Beastbox System box successfully forced Industry to renew or purchase new TWIC Cards, and comply with the mandates of the Federal Government.

 

The database is shared between Terminals and affords many benefits. Campbell reports no failures with the system and the system works as designed. Any failure that takes place out on the edge is with the TWIC card, not the Beastbox system. According to Campbell, “The Beastbox tells us everything that is going on with the card and everything we need to know to make the best possible decision before allowing access.” Elsewhere, however, companies like Intellicheck Mobilisa and Schneider Electric have solutions that also work – and have been certified by the U.S. Government as to that fact.

 

  • Container Scanning

It wasn’t too long ago – April 18th, to be precise – that Decision Sciences International corporation (DSIC) earned U.S. Department of Homeland Security Safety Act Designation for its Multi-Mode Passive Detection System (MMPDS). According to DSIC, MMPDS is a revolutionary detection system that safely and efficiently protects ports, borders and critical infrastructure from nuclear, radiological, explosive and other contraband threats. The passive scanning technology is capable of detecting, identifying and locating in 3-D, shielded and unshielded threats in all types of vehicles, shipping and air cargo containers and also protecting critical infrastructure. But don’t take their word for it – just ask me. I’ve actually gone to Freeport, Bahamas to see the device in action.

 

In January of 2013, MarPro traveled to Freeport to get a firsthand look at the technology. A demonstration involving 4 trucks, each towing containers in the usual fashion, showed that each could be easily driven into the scanner through a normal traffic lane. Scanning for each took 50 seconds or less – or in other words, in less time than it took for the driver to interface with Customs, exchange documents and clear the truck for departure. The configuration can be scaled up or down as needed, for high traffic facilities. DSIC CEO Dr. Stanton Sloane insists, “A principal design parameter of the technology is that it should not impede the flow of commerce.”

 

As a part of the requirement for an acceptable system, the scanner has to be automatic or in other words, provide a green or red indicator. No operator interpretation is needed. Consistent with the initial intent to eliminate the need for expensive, extensive training and/or the need to make judgment calls, the system showed itself to be fully operational and able to detect partially shielded and completely shielded nuclear threats. But, in reality, the system’s utility extends far beyond mere nuclear detection capabilities. 

 

According to DSIC, their passive solution is significantly less expensive – perhaps as little as 25 percent of the cost of active scanners. The machines – the detectors – are made out of aluminum tubes and as a result, are very scalable closer together. The pilot program set-up at the Hutchinson Container Terminal located at Freeport, Bahamas, for example, is designed so that entire tractor trailer can be driven into the system without having to take anything apart or interfering with the flow of commerce. And one scanning machine, unlike x-ray or active systems, can handle multiple lanes at once, giving real economy of scale to the system.

 

  • Scanning and TWIC: Available Now, Economical & Viable, too

For about $5,000, terminal operators can employ a proven system of TWIC ID card verification – and, they can have it today. Like it or not; the complete TWIC solution is here. The only question left to ask is why anyone, presented with a database of 2.1 million thoroughly vetted workers, wouldn’t take advantage of that layer of security to make their terminals, vessels, foreign trade zones – indeed, the entire supply chain itself – that much safer.

 

As for container scanning, I’ve personally witnessed what is possible – and in fact – what is already in operation. And if we’re not careful, any hope of a shortsea U.S. flag container fleet to serve niche ports from our “mega” ports capable of handling post-Panamax tonnage will evaporate into thin air. All of those vessels will come from places like the Bahamas, where scanning is already taking place. We could have multi-lane scanners in every container terminal in America today. Delaying that decision for another two years – and watering down the requirement for TWIC card readers – are simply mistakes that we cannot afford to make. – MarPro.

* * *

 

Joseph Keefe is the lead commentator of MaritimeProfessional.com. Additionally, he is Editor of both Maritime Professional and MarineNews print magazines. He can be reached at jkeefe@maritimeprofessional.com or at Keefe@marinelink.com. MaritimeProfessional.com is the largest business networking site devoted to the marine industry. Each day thousands of industry professionals around the world log on to network, connect, and communicate.

 
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Comments
Laurie Thomas
In discussing the effectiveness of the TWIC program, there are two other points that need to be made.

First, as of May 2014, almost 55,000 people have received Initial Determination of Threat Assessment Letters and have allowed the time period for a response to expire; they have dropped out of the enrollment process. At one time, TSA was advising that these persons cannot re-enroll. Why did these people elect not to go forward with the waiver or appeal process? Job offer fell through? Failed to tell their current employer about whatever problem generated the Letter? We don’t know and TSA probably doesn’t know either, in the majority of the cases. The fact remains that 55,000 people have elected NOT to go forward with enrolling for a card that (along with a business case) allows them unescorted access to secure areas (high-risk areas) in U. S. port facilities and vessels.

A second point that needs to be made is that this card, while providing a background investigation of the cardholder, only gives us a snapshot of that background at the time of enrollment. TSA is advising that they are conducting “periodic random background reviews” of the TWIC population. The TWIC population is huge and this would be a costly endeavor, so I don’t believe that it’s happening. From security clients, I have received several reports of cards that have been revoked because the cardholder has committed some offense since enrollment, but in every case the action by TSA was linked to a complaint by an employer or employee to TSA or the Coast Guard that the person still had a card even though he was about to serve time for a disqualifying offense. Congress needs to fund a robust continuing check of the cardholder population.

Bearing in mind these pros and cons, in my opinion, we are more secure with the card than without it, and programs like SSA’s prove that it is workable in the real world.
6/13/2014 10:12:21 AM