L.A. port to get biometrics and access control upgrade

The Transportation Worker Identification Credentials (TWIC) program has many ports working hard to shore up their facility's access control and security. The system puts technology in place for card-based and biometric-based access control for work identification and access, all designed around improving port security.

The port of Los Angeles is among those ports involved with the TWIC program, and systems contractor Unisys announced this week that it will be heading up the biometric and access control part of the TWIC project.

Unisys reportedly received a contract to handle the design, planning and testing of a system project that will use smart cards along with fingerprint biometrics and a digital photo of the worker. Those elements, says Unisys, will be integrated into the access control system for the terminals, and will allow extra verification by the port's security officers.

The model for biometric-enabled card access at the Los Angeles port involves a smart card reader with an integrated fingerprint reader. The stations are expected to be deployed at any locations where there is pedestrian or vehicle ingress.

"Unisys is proud to provide security advisory and integration services to its customers in the maritime and aviation transportation industries, delivering proven security solutions worldwide. The benefit to our customers -- and to the constituents they serve -- is their ability to mitigate and manage risk," said Tom Conaway, the managing partner for homeland security at Unisys.

Unisys had previously worked with the Port of Halifax to deploy a similar card-plus-biometric project to control access for the port's roughly 4,000 workers. At that Canadian port, which isn't part of the United States' TWIC program, the port selected vascular biometric stations from Identica. Those systems used near infrared cameras that could read the vein patterns just four millimeters below the outer layer of the hand.

According to Terry Wheeler, COO of Identica, the solution has been able to provide high-throughput employee identification. He noted that it is able to work in the very harsh environment at the Port of Halifax thanks to a custom heated enclosure for the hand vascular sensor.

In the TWIC program for U.S. ports, however, the biometric has been the fingeprint, with companies like Lumidigm, Bioscrypt and others being part of early tests. The overall imprint of this TWIC program nationally means that more than 1 million employees will have to be enrolled over time in the various TWIC projects that will be occurring at U.S. ports. Those workers can range from port employees to longshoremen, truck drivers and "others requiring unescorted access to secure areas of maritime facilities and vessels regulated by MTSA," notes the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).