Jun. 18--Virginia Port Authority security director Ed Merkle says the Transportation Security Administration hasn't fully accounted for the cost of upgrading port terminal facilities nationally to put a massive high-tech security card system in place.
Also, he said, the TSA is going forward without fully testing the system in a marine terminal environment.
Merkle has long been a proponent of getting the new security cards in place, saying that it has taken too long - nearly five years since Sept. 11, 2001 - to get the system under way.
Yet he has some serious concerns with the proposed rules that finally came out last month.
The TSA has predicted that it would cost between $8,903 and $11,903 for small terminals to incorporate the system. But Merkle said the rules are silent on how much it will cost for larger entities - such as the Port Authority - to put it in place. And the rules don't spell out any federal grant sources for paying those bills.
The Port Authority, which oversees three container terminals in Hampton Roads, has preliminary estimates that it would cost $750,000 to put the system in place across its more than 30 truck lanes. That's on top of another $4.8 million the Port Authority has also spent recently on adding new electronic gate capabilities - much of which is needed for the new TWIC system as well. "While it's clearly the next level of homeland security, we need to fully understand the costs of the implementation of the program," Merkle said.
He added that a fingerprint-based card reader system has never been fully tested in a large marine environment.
Darrin Kayser, a TSA spokesman, said the system has been tested in a marine environment, including at terminals in Florida and Los Angeles.
But Merkle said those were only small portions of those terminals. The TSA, he said, is proud of the fact that a 12-employee facility in the Philadelphia area has implemented it. Yet it's never tested the system in a very large entity - on the order of the Virginia Port Authority, with thousands of employees entering its gates daily.
The card system, Merkle said, often requires extra manpower at the gates. For example, port workers dealing with containers all day often come to the gates with greasy or grimy hands - which need to be wiped down before the readers will work correctly. That could lead to delays at the gates.
Merkle has other concerns that he also hopes are ironed out before the rules come out. There are no provisions for truckers who lose their cards, for example.
"Maybe he left it in his pants pocket, but he's not sure," Merkle said. What will happen with that driver's delivery?
Merkle also questions whether a one-to-one match of a worker's fingerprints to his card is absolutely necessary each time a worker comes to the gate. In a low-threat environment, Merkle said, a balance between security and smooth port access might require only random checks - and still be just as effective.
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