Va. and Md. Create Unified Smart Card for Safety Workers

Dec. 21--Virginia and Maryland will be the first states with sophisticated credentials for police, firefighters and emergency workers to carry in a regional crisis.

The groundbreaking program will begin next month in Arlington County and other Northern Virginia localities, which will receive 4,000 credentials for the first responders to a disaster. On the other side of the Potomac River, Maryland will issue 3,500 credentials to police, fire and rescue workers in Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

The credentials will include digitized fingerprints to verify the identity of the people carrying them, as well as essential information for their jobs.

The credentials "know who you are, they know what you are in terms of your qualifications and skills, and they know your security clearance," said Steven M. Mondul, Virginia's deputy assistant to the governor for commonwealth preparedness.

That kind of information wasn't available at the Pentagon in Arlington on Sept. 11, when hordes of police, fire and rescue workers from multiple jurisdictions responded to the terrorist attack that killed 189 people.

"They were coming in from the District of Columbia, Maryland and all of Northern Virginia," said Debbie Powers, deputy coordinator of emergency management in Arlington. "It made it really hard to manage the incident initially."

The Bush administration responded with a presidential order requiring federal agencies to issue a consistent set of secure credentials, based on the same technical standards, by this fall. Virginia, Maryland, and the District decided to develop their own credentials with federal homeland-security funds for the National Capital Region, which is rich in federal installations.

The initiatives represent a drastic reduction in the project first announced last year by officials in the National Capital Region. Then, they sought to issue so-called "smart card" credentials to 200,000 first responders in the region at a cost of $3.9 million.

Now, the project is using $1.5 million awarded to the region last year through the Urban Area Security Initiative. Virginia and Maryland are using the money to pay for credentials and hand-held devices for reading them at the perimeter of a disaster site. The initial program does not include the District of Columbia.

There is no federal homeland security money available to expand the program. Washington-area officials protested loudly when the government reduced aid to the region this year through the Urban Areas Security Initiative. The Richmond area no longer receives any money under the program, and Hampton Roads always has been excluded despite its abundance of federal sites and its status as a major port.

"We have to have federal money for this," Mondul said. "I think there is a little bit of hope on the horizon."

Arlington is the primary test site for what the government calls the "first responder authentication credential," or FRAC. The system was developed by Johnson Controls Inc., based in Milwaukee, as part of a consortium of big corporations with technological expertise.

The system incorporates a person's identity documents, professional background, a photograph, and a digitized fingerprint that serves as biometric identification.

"It's all about our ability to verify we are who we say we are," said Gary Schworm, senior account manager at Johnson Controls.

Contact staff writer Michael Martz at or (804) 649-6964.

Copyright (c) 2006, Richmond Times-Dispatch Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.