Damage Control

Damage Control

The Port of Brownsville, Texas, is happy with the electronic readers it has as part of the Transportation Worker Identification Credential system, but that didn’t stop the port authority from turning the readers off recently.

Brownsville was among the sites the Coast Guard chose to test the readers. The pilot officially ends May 31, and the agency expects to publish a proposed rule for mandatory reader deployment by the end of the year.

“We haven’t had any problems with the readers themselves,” Deputy Port Director Donna M. Eymard said. “Our problem has been with the cards. The card stock they used was not sufficient to hold up to the wear and tear. All the laminate is peeling off.”

The International Longshoreman’s Association reported the same problem in Houston last year, but there has been no official acknowledgement a problem even exists.

And it’s not the only issue. When the card bends, a small wire antenna embedded in the card can break. That prevents biometric data stored on the card from being transmitted to the reader, said Walter Hamilton, president of the International Biometric Industry Association.

Hamilton said the problem appears to be pervasive among government-issued “contactless” smart cards. Anecdotal evidence indicates failure rates ranging from 8 to 30 percent. Emyard said 15 Brownsville employees in April received replacement cards out of a total work force of 93. The problem, Hamilton said, is with the standards for card durability set down by the National Institute of Standards and Technology; there needs to be a more stringent materials standard to prevent damage by bending.

The Coast Guard recently did a security audit at Brownsville, and declared the peeling TWICs to be invalid for ID purposes, Eymard said. “You can’t even use them as a flash pass,” she said.

The TWIC that cost a worker $132.50 costs another $60 to replace. “And they’re only good to the expiration of your old card. Now the individual is in it for $192.50 and they may have only a year left on their card,” Eymard said. “It’s a racket. If the government is going to mandate these things, then they need to be held accountable for the quality of the product they’re putting out.”

Eymard said the readers won’t be turned on again until they become mandatory for port access, but the port’s committed to stick with TWIC. “We embrace the system wholeheartedly,” she said. “We want our port to be safe.”

Contact R.G. Edmonson at bedmonson@joc.com.