Using TWIC with biometrics will be challenge

Head of security for Virginia ports says biometrics may be troublesome to fit into port operations


The Port Authority frequently does modeling and simulation of its gate activity, measuring it in the seconds due to the amount of traffic entering and exiting its three cargo terminals in the Hampton Roads area. In the case of its Norfolk International Terminals, where the gates are near the main road outside the facility, any backups can quickly spillover, affecting commercial and commuting interests, Merkle says.

The Port Authority has an understanding of the spillover affect due to the simulations it runs.

This is true at most terminals around the country, Merkle says. "You can quickly spillover into causing other collateral damage within the interior of the city you're adjacent too."

If DHS decides to use fixed readers at entry gates, that would likely require increasing the number of gates in order to mitigate the spillover affect on the nearby community, Merkle says. Expanding infrastructure can be expensive, he says.

The Port Authority has experience with going from a standard flash pass system to use of electronic gates at its Portsmouth Marine Terminal. There, a trucker still flashes a badge but readers and cameras are used to make sure that the badge is still valid and that the driver of the truck is the same person holding the badge.

However, to maintain the same traffic flow at Portsmouth, the gate infrastructure was expanded from two lanes to seven. If a fingerprint read would be required, depending on the rejection rates, even more lanes might need to be added, Merkle says.

Merkle believes the best place to use a fixed biometric reader infrastructure are the secure or restricted areas of a port such as the command centers and port police facilities.

Other Challenges

Merkle's official title is Director of Port Security and Emergency Operations. He describes his main priorities as prevention, detection, response and recovery. In addition to Port Authority's current credentialing process and access control system, prevention includes a fence line, which is monitored by a closed circuit video system.

To improve the detection and response components of security, the Port Authority recently upgraded its command centers with the Situator situation management software suite developed by Orsus (TR2, Dec. 12, 2007).

With 10 miles of fencing and about 250 security cameras at the Port Authority's three cargo terminals, Situator helps integrate various technology solutions and ensure that various types of incidents that occur automatically provide the appropriate alerts up and down the chain of command, speeding decision flow, Merkle says. Everyone who needs to know has a common operating picture at their workstations, he says.

The Port Authority is also hoping to upgrade its video security technology with improved analytic capabilities. Its current video analytic technology relies on pixel changes to alarm, but this only works well in areas where it can be turned on when there shouldn't be any activity, such as a warehouse once the day's shift is done.

Merkle would like smart video that "learns" what is acceptable versus unacceptable so that it doesn't alert when it doesn't have to. Moreover, he wants technology that not only can detect an individual intruding where he doesn't belong, but can also track that person and then hand off to another camera if necessary.

"And then take that piece of data you're collecting in the dispatch center and push it out to the officer who has to do the response," Merkle says.

"In essence allow the officer to look around the corner before they come around the corner." This capability could be selectively deployed for certain areas of the container terminals, he says.