RE: TSA Priorities: Agency needs to rethink TWIC in light of the funding realities, says consultant

By John Becker, Director, Tyco Fire & Security

Agency needs to rethink TWIC in light of the funding realities, says consultant

Consider the Transportation Worker Identification Card. TWIC? How about Worldwide Airport Security Tags for Employees, or WASTE? During the past several months, airport officials have raised serious questions about the viability of the TWIC program, citing difficulties ranging from managing badge information to increased expenses.

In the months following 9/11, the Transportation Security Administra-tion (TSA) developed the idea of having a single ID badge across the nation at all airports. TWIC was born. A "Go Team" was sent out to speak with airports about this new idea and to sell it across the land.

The multi-dimensional card would be capable of working in a variety of security environments and would have a multitude of technologies embedded into it, including magnetic stripe, barcode, proximity transmitter, Smart chip and contact-less Smart chip.

Many airport leaders are calling for the TSA to get back to basics and concentrate on passenger and baggage screening.

A Flood of Concerns
Among airport concerns:

• Managing badge information, including termination requests, is difficult enough at airports. They would now be required to ensure terminations were managed for hundreds of thousands of employees based out of other airports.

• Every airport has its own distinct badge. Color, size, and badge layout are all determining factors of a person’s access level. Airport employees would have to know the color scheme, layout, and access levels of all 429 commercial airports, in order to enforce federal challenge requirements. Or the TSA would standardize the look of the card and require all 429 airports to change their established policies and procedures.

• The TSA’s estimated cost per badge was $15. Even with bulk purchase discounts, the cards would still cost an estimated $7-8. That’s eight times the current production cost of one badge at O’Hare International.

• The majority of airport workers will never need to set foot in another airport, which begs the question: Why do they need a badge that gives them access across the nation?

• In 2002, at the Spring ACI-NA Public Safety and Security meeting, Chicago, Denver, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Seattle, and Reagan National spoke against the idea of a national badge. LAX, Miami, Houston, and Detroit expressed their opposition at a separate event soon after.

• The TSA uses the example of an airline pilot who has more than 24 different airport badges. But this employee is a union representative and his case is a rarity, not the norm. It is recommended that the TSA consider this universal access program for DOT workers and/or airline flight crews only. Although some airline employees may be transferred from airport to airport, there is no reason for non-flight crew employees to have access to more than one airport at a time.

• TSA has been able to bring a sense of security and customer service to screening checkpoints. That said, TSA needs to take a step back and reevaluate the number of initiatives it has taken on. It has set such a large agenda for itself that airports are holding back on much needed investments in physical security.

Sustained Investment?
Airports, which need additional security staff, upgrades to access control systems, additional video surveillance, and digital video recorders, are not going to invest money until they know where TSA is headed. TSA needs to reevaluate its priorities and reexamine the mandate set by Congress, find money for airports by cutting wasteful programs like TWIC, and implement physical security standards and guidelines. It also needs to speed up the Airport Access Control Pilot Program. Airports would be well served by investing in at least a half dozen physical security systems.

Access Control. The Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA) is vague on TSA’s responsibilities for airport access control. Airports want to move forward. TSA needs to adopt the recently revised RTCA Standards for Airport Security Access Control.

Biometrics. ATSA specifically requires TSA to conduct a pilot program of not less than 20 airports to test emerging technologies, including biometric authentication. TSA is moving forward, but the timetable is unknown. Airports are afraid of investing in a particular technology (fingerprint, iris scan, hand geometry, etc.), to find out later that TSA hasn’t specified it. Again, TSA should approve the RTCA document as the industry guideline.

Video Surveillance. TSA needs to start providing airports with funding options to pay for this much needed security enhancement.

Video Recording. With the dawn of digital video recorders (DVRs), airports with a large number of cameras now have a viable solution to record all video.

Perimeter Security. A number of products exist in the market, including taut wire, radar-based, infrared, and microwave. This technology is expensive and requires a major capital investment. It also requires integration with existing systems.

Breach Control. Roll down gates activated by the access control system can be used to isolate a particular terminal or concourse. Video cameras at checkpoints, hooked into a digital video recorder, could be used to capture a photo of the suspect. Flight information display monitors and other dynamic signage can broadcast the photo throughout the concourse, utilizing employees and passengers to locate the suspect. Law enforcement can then analyze the situation and determine if evacuation and rescreening is necessary.

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John Becker is director of Airport Business Development for Tyco Security Business Partners, and previously worked in security at various U.S. airports, including O’Hare.