Guard and TSA plan IT pilots at U.S. ports

Guard and TSA plan IT pilots at U.S. ports

The Coast Guard and the Transportation Security Administration continue to fine-tune efforts to track people and goods entering the nation's ports.

The Coast Guard established the National Vessel Movement Center at its data center in Martinsburg, W.Va., following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The center gathers information reported by foreign ships entering U.S. ports.

It also will experiment with standardized identification cards for seafarers, a project being coordinated with TSA, which is developing its own IDs for U.S. transportation workers. Both these IDs will incorporate biometrics and smart cards, and the Coast Guard would like them to be interoperable, Coast Guard and TSA officials said today at the E-gov Conference on Homeland Security in Washington.

Prior to the Sept. 11 attacks, foreign ships had to report their plans to enter a U.S. port 24 hours in advance. The information now must be reported 96 hours in advance to the National Vessel Movement Center, which distributes data about the ships, cargo, crew and passengers to each port authority, said Capt. Jim Decker of the Coast Guard's Operations Systems Center.

But only 30 percent of more than 10,000 ships a year supply the information electronically, Decker said. "Seventy percent has to be keyed into the databases."

Decker said the Guard is considering partnering with a commercial shipping agent to develop a reporting format based on Extensible Markup Language that could be offered to shippers as a commercial product.

Including biometrics in a standard seafarer's ID is proving difficult but not because of technical problems, said the Coast Guard's Capt. Kevin Dale.

'There are cultural issues you wouldn't believe," he said, such as objections to photos and providing biometric information.

TSA has selected airports and seaports in Philadelphia and Los Angeles-Long Beach to develop pilot versions of its Transportation Workers ID Credentials, TSA's Steven E. Froehlich said. He said the ports have not settled on the technology to be used in the pilots and that several different systems probably will be tested.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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