DHS Special Report | Coast Guard secures facilities with biometrics, RFID system

QUICK CHECK: At Fort Lewis, servicemen use handheld scanners to scan the RapidGate ID cards, which employees obtain after enrolling at a self-service kiosk.

To understand the promise biometrics and radio frequency identification technology hold for the Homeland Security Department, look no further than two Coast Guard facilities'one in the District of Columbia and one in Washington state.

At Coast Guard headquarters in D.C., a voluntary program'which both campuses use'called RapidGate lets vendors gain easier access to the facility by voluntarily registering for a biometric identification card.

Since November, RapidGate has helped the D.C. campus identify three potential vendor employees who had served time for murder, one registered sex offender, two working under false names and others with multiple identities or who had lied about their criminal history, said Wayne Truax, Coast Guard's chief of security and safety for the headquarters support command in Washington.

'We get a better grade of contractor,' by using RapidGate, Truax said. 'These are people who work in our building, and we need to have a level of trust.'

Meanwhile, at the the Army's Fort Lewis, Wash., facility, where the Coast Guard implemented RapidGate, which uses both biometrics and RFID to track vendors, said Steven Larson, chief executive officer and chairman of Eid Passport Inc. of Portland, Ore., the company hired under a five-year contract to install the system.

Fort Lewis officials declined to be interviewed for the story.

Larson said Fort Lewis, which has been using RapidGate for two years, is using biometrics to authenticate and identify vendors, and RFID to track vehicles. The RFID tag is connected to a vendor's vehicle so the Coast Guard knows when it enters or leaves the facility.

'There is constant exception reporting if someone didn't leave,' Larson said. 'The key is to always make certain that there is a clean ingress and egress for different vehicles that come onto the base.'

The ins and outs

Vendors at both sites must apply to become a part of RapidGate, and employees go through a background check. The Coast Guard collects employees' fingerprints and takes their pictures at a self-enrollment kiosk. After passing the background check, employees are issued cards.

The vendor's badge also has an RFID tag attached to it, so when the vendor enters the base, a notation is recorded in the database. That same record must be closed out when the vendor leaves the base, Larson added.

About 700 vendors and 4,000 badgeholders enter Fort Lewis every day, and Larson said vendors can enter in as little as 12 seconds.

In D.C., about 100 vendors and 550 card holders use RapidGate, which the Coast Guard runs in parallel with its physical-access control system, called Maxxess.

Truax said vendors who do not normally need clearances go through RapidGate, while others who do need clearances go through Maxxess.

He said with the systems running in parallel, the building is more secure.
'If a vendor is fired or quits but doesn't turn in their ID, within 30 seconds we can kill their access,' he said.

Larson said the cost of the program is covered by the fees vendors pay to register. He said the program, including the use of RFID, likely will be expanded to other facilities.

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