Compatibility dictates rollout of emergency responder, port IDs

Compatibility issues are dictating the rollout speed of ongoing, large-scale deployments of biometric identification cards for emergency responders and port workers, according to panelists who spoke Thursday at a government credentialing conference.

One such "smart card" program coordinated by the Homeland Security Department is intended to give federal, state, and county public-safety officials -- and recovery personnel -- quick access to government buildings in the event of a terrorist attack or other disaster.

The concept was designed in part to eliminate the obstacles that threw off state and local emergency officials responding to the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the Pentagon.

"While the initial event is catastrophic, the importance is not just how quickly do you respond to it but how quickly do you recover" economically, said Sal D'Agostino, who is with the ID management firm CoreStreet. "Interoperability is very important in these first recovery [areas]."

Homeland Security also is at work deploying uniform smart cards for maritime personnel who must enter restricted areas of vessels and port facilities.

An estimated 750,000 or more people will be required to use the transportation worker identification credential, referred to as TWIC. The IDs are supposed to prevent unauthorized, unescorted individuals from harming the nautical transportation system.

John Schwartz of the Transportation Security Administration said the joint TSA-Coast Guard TWIC program is still developing biometric reader specifications to ensure compatibility between the cards and various commercial readers.

"We have to make sure that whatever we do, we do not adversely affect commerce" or privacy, he said. "Those challenges have really shaped many of the decisions."

In deploying the card-check systems, the difficulty is not huge infrastructure investments but making sure the cards and card reader can talk to each other.

D'Agostino said: "I would maintain you don't need any new infrastructure. ... You don't need the database" to check if the card is valid.

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