Story last updated at 1/21/2009 - 11:41 am
JUNEAU - Some 8,400 Alaska workers whose jobs require accessing secure areas of ports have signed up for the so-called TWIC, or Transportation Worker Identification Credentials, they will need for port entry after Feb. 12.
The federal program is designed to ensure port security nationwide.
Since the registration period began months ago, the Marine Exchange of Alaska in Juneau has been working with the federal Transportation Security Administration and its subcontractor, Lockheed Martin, to make sure the registration process works smoothly, and at a reasonable cost, for all who must be registered in Alaska.
And for the most part, it has gone smoothly, said Brett Farrell, assistant director of the Marine Exchange, a nonprofit association of shipping firms and Alaska vessel owners, based in Juneau.
"The last couple of months, they will probably get the last little surge of stragglers," he said. "It will probably be pretty close to 10,000 people (total), but the good news is most of them are already enrolled."
There are, however, a few horror stories. Farrell said in a telephone interview Jan. 6 that he had taken a call from a man in Sitka who never made it to the mobile TWIC enrollment facility when it was in Sitka.
Instead, the man had to travel to Juneau to fill out the enrollment forms, which took about 20 minutes.
"Then, for a variety of reasons, all very Alaskan, by the time he got home it was a six-day visit in Juneau," Farrell said.
Three days after the man got home to Sitka, he got a call saying his TWIC card was ready, requiring him to return to Juneau to pick it up it up in person.
"It took him nine days to get his card, but it took him six days for enrollment," Farrell said.
Without the mobile centers, which Farrell was instrumental in incorporating into the Alaska registration program, every one of the several thousand people required to obtain the TWIC cards would have had to make two round trips to Anchorage, Juneau, Valdez or Nikiski, first to apply in person and then to retrieve their TWIC cards.
Enforcement for most of Alaska begins in February. Licensed Coast Guard mariners have until April 15 to get their cards.
The cost of the cards themselves - good for five years - is $132.50 apiece.
Harbormasters, other port officials and private companies started months ago to calculate the transportation, lodging, meals and time off from work for each worker who needed a TWIC card. They talked to the Marine Exchange, which took the issue to Lockheed Martin, and arranged for the mobile centers to come to several other areas of Alaska.
The latest enrollment figures released by the TSA show 3,918 workers have filled out TWIC forms in Anchorage, and 2,613 have picked up their credentials. These numbers include those who enrolled at mobile centers in Kodiak, Cordova and Dutch Harbor.
For Juneau, there have been 2,135 enrollments and 1,509 activations. These numbers include those who enrolled at mobile centers in Ketchikan, Craig, Sitka, Petersburg, Haines and Skagway. Nikiski enrolled 1,298 people, of which 1,017 credentials are activated, and Valdez has enrolled 1,139, again with 1,017 credentials activated.
According to the TSA, 782,395 persons have enrolled to date, with 554,547 cards activated.
With the initial enrollment nearing its end, Farrell said the Marine Exchange has shifted gears to look for long-term solutions, since the cards will have to be reactivated in five years.
One plan allows individual companies or communities to designate their own employees as trusted agents, and their own companies can vet them, so that these individuals can serve as agents to issue the next batch of TWIC credentials.
Each of these individuals must undergo additional vetting and training by Lockheed Martin. The companies or communities they represent can then become a subcontractor of Lockheed Martin for future TWIC credential enrollment. Farrell said the cities of Nome, Dutch Harbor, Ketchikan and Skagway are already showing some interest in this.
Lockheed Martin also has promised to provide the Marine Exchange with mobile enrollment equipment to provide limited local enrollment, in the course of staff travels for security audits throughout Alaska. Farrell said he expected to do some sign-ups, saving those who did so at least one trip to Anchorage.
"I figure if we can find enough little solutions (for small issues) we can keep the pain (of time and expenses involved) down," Farrell said. "The biggest pain is over. It cost some people a lot of money compared to their counterparts in the Lower 48, but the worst of it is finally over."
Reach Margaret Bauman at firstname.lastname@example.org.