Port security to see new federal protocol

A new federal security protocol soon will be coming to the Twin Ports. Jim Sharrow, facilities manager for the Duluth Seaway Port Authority, said he expects that by the start of the next shipping season, dockworkers in Duluth and Superior will ne...

A new federal security protocol soon will be coming to the Twin Ports.

Jim Sharrow, facilities manager for the Duluth Seaway Port Authority, said he expects that by the start of the next shipping season, dockworkers in Duluth and Superior will need federal clearance to continue with their waterfront jobs.

The Transportation Security Administration is launching its Transportation Workers Identification Credential, or TWIC, program in an effort to keep the nation's ports secure from terrorist attack.

Thirteen days ago, Wilmington, Del., became the first U.S. port to begin testing the new system. Longshoremen, truckers, mariners and others who have ready access to key port operations will be required to undergo background checks before they can be issued TWIC cards, complete with biometric identification in the form of electronic fingerprint scans.

The cards won't come cheap. Each will cost $132.50 and will remain valid for five years. Lose or damage one, and a replacement costs $60. Workers with valid merchant marine licenses will be eligible for a price break and can buy cards for $105.25.


Developing the TWIC program has cost the federal government about $100 million, The program, which has encountered delays, by law was to have gone live at the nation's 10 highest-risk ports by July and at 40 more by year's end. Even though pilot testing of the system began Oct. 16 in Wilmington, key pieces of the network remain in development. For instance, the card readers that port facilities are supposed to use to authenticate TWIC ID cards have yet to be produced.

In testimony before a congressional subcommittee earlier this year, TWIC Program Director Maurine Fanguy explained that developing a secure and fully integrated system has been a complicated challenge.

"Technology programs always require comprehensive testing and TWIC is no different," she said. "That is why we are focused on a rigorous program to flight-test TWIC before we go out to the ports. All the internal moving parts must work together, and they must work in combination to conduct accurate and timely security threat assessments. Rigorous performance testing is the only way to know for sure that TWIC is ready to go live."

Sharrow said he feels fortunate that the TWIC system won't arrive in the Twin Ports until it has been tested elsewhere.

"I'd rather have someone else go first and work the kinks out of it," he said. "We breathed a sigh of relief when learned that we we're not likely to be hit with this before the next shipping season."

The American Maritime Officers, a union representing merchant marine officers aboard U.S.-flagged vessels, has questioned the necessity of an entirely new credential and has instead recommended adding a biometric identifier to maritime licenses.

If background checks reveal past convictions for violent or sexual crimes, they may be deemed ineligible to receive a TWIC card. Concerns also have been raised about false matches and inaccuracies to be found in the federal terrorist watch list. It is feared that these flaws could lead to the wrongful flagging and disqualification of applicants.

Port facilities, too, could face a steep price associated with the TWIC program. By some estimates, they will need to invest $1.2 billion in additional security equipment to meet new federal standards.


Jerry Fryberger, president of the Twin Ports' Hallett Dock Co., sees massive security investments in bulk facilities such as the ones he oversees as misguided.

"We don't handle anything that's hazardous or particularly sensitive," he said, adding that the higher costs of shipping will be passed onto consumers.

Sharrow acknowledged that, depending on how it's implemented, the program could prove a burden to some Twin Ports facilities, but he said the U.S. Coast Guard has been working with dock operators to minimize any disruptions.

"There will be growing pains, but I'm confident we'll get by," Sharrow said.

Fryberger suggested that, instead of taking a wide-sweep approach, the federal government should focus on key infrastructure, such as the Soo Locks and the Welland Canal.

Gary Nicholson, president of Lake Superior Warehousing Co. Inc., remains more resigned. Like them or not, he said the Twin Ports ultimately will need to comply with new federal standards.

"We've all known this was coming," he said. "It's just another thing we have to deal with."

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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