What You Need to Know About TWIC

by Mark Leto, Jr. of Inner Parish Security Corporation

Many of you have might have questions about the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) program. The TWIC program is a security measure enforced at ports nationwide by the Coast Guard and works to ensure that any individual who has unescorted access to secure areas of port facilities and vessels has received a thorough background check. More importantly, the TWIC program ensures that an individual is not a security threat. Individuals who meet TWIC eligibility requirements will be issued a tamper-resistant credential, including a photograph, bar code, pin number, and fingerprint scan to allow for a positive link between the card and the cardholder.


Prior to the TWIC card, ports across the United States tried to police themselves as best as possible. There were just far too many documents and credentials needed in order to keep track of authorized and unauthorized personnel. It was even more difficult for law enforcement officials and the Coast Guard to know who and what was entering these highly sensitive areas on a daily basis. After September 11th, the issue became even more sensitive; thus, TWIC was mandated and policed by the Coast Guard and was written into the Maritime Transportation Security Act (MTSA). Through the MTSA, Congress directed the federal government to issue a biometric security credential to individuals with unescorted access to secure areas of facilities and vessels and all mariners holding Coast Guard- issued credentials or qualification documents.

Originally, the Transportation Security Administration estimated 750,000 people would need to enroll in the program; however, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, already 1,518,821 workers had been enrolled by mid-March of this year. Sometimes even over estimating, such as was done in this case; we still couldn’t fathom the amount of people that it takes to operate these ports and refineries. Naturally, areas surrounding ports are going to have a larger distribution of TWIC cards. For instance, Baton Rouge has one of the largest TWIC distributions in the United States. Baton Rouge and the surrounding areas are densely populated with maritime industry workers; and because of refineries, ports and the feeder industries that support those entities, Baton Rouge has become a monster for TWIC enrollments. Also, keep in mind that every person that enters the designated areas of TWIC has to be enrolled and carry a card.

Problems with TWIC

One of the major problems with the implementation of the TWIC program is that ports and compliant industries have yet to install card readers to scan the TWIC cards. It would be hard to determine if there have been any issues until these card scanners are available. If anyone were to try and access an unauthorized area with a falsified TWIC card, it would be a federal crime. In reference to the scanners, some of the compliant industries are making a real push to install the card scanners as the Coast Guard will be issuing a mandate on the installation soon.

How to Make the Enrollment Process More Efficient

In order to receive a TWIC card, an applicant must go through a strict enrollment process. Applicants can save time by pre-enrolling online or via phone. Applicants are required to bring identity documents to the enrollment center, and upon visiting they will (1) complete a TWIC Disclosure and Certification Form, (2) pay the enrollment fee ($132.50), (3) provide biographic information (if applicant did not pre-enroll), (4) complete a set of fingerprints; and (5) take a digital photograph. Applicants will be notified by email or phone, as specified during enrollment, when their TWIC card is available for pickup at the enrollment center. Applicants must return to the center at which they enrolled to pick up their TWIC (unless they specify another enrollment center at the time of enrollment). TWIC cards will be issued to applicants 6 – 8 weeks after enrollment, and they can check the status of their card and schedule a pick-up appointment via the official TWIC website.

In terms of efficiency, the most important aspects of an operation like TWIC that supports walk-ins are time management, the ability to multitask and most importantly communication with your customer. Typically, about 60% of TWIC applicants are walk-ins and approximately 100 TWIC cards are processed daily at each enrollment center. Applicants can help facilitate the enrollment process by enrolling ahead of time on the Internet. As stated earlier, with so many walk-in clients, applicants who pre-enroll online and set his or her appointment are able to be slated in at a set time slot, and can usually cut their wait time in half. The average wait time is about thirty to forty minutes; however, if you pre-enrolled and have an appointment, the wait time drops to ten to twenty minutes.

Ineligible Applicants

Applicants who might have trouble obtaining a TWIC card include criminals and those who might not pass a background check. Certain serious criminal offenses will preclude one from receiving a card, or minor offenses, such as unpaid traffic tickets or taxes, could cause delays in its issuance. When the TWIC program first started, there were delays as long as a month or two because of the volume of applicants, but that has subsided and the wait time has become much shorter.

What’s Next?

In all cases, private security should play a major role in the inspection and verification of whom and what is entering and exiting the unauthorized areas. If your company or port is mandated to have TWIC cards, be sure to install the scanners for verification, and have a private security firm scan the TWIC cards and control what personnel comes in and out of the unauthorized areas. Controlling access to secure areas is the key factor in enhancing port security. Individuals will continue to enroll and receive their TWIC cards, and ports must make it a priority to install the scanners in order to read the cards. In terms of security, if there are no scanners then the credential is meaningless. An announcement should come soon mandating the installation of the scanners; until then, TWIC holders will be wondering, “Why did I have to get this card?”