TSA doing its part to keep waters safe during COVID-19

Thursday, July 30, 2020
K9 checking bag

TSA is best known for screening travelers at the nation’s airports, but the agency also carries out a key role in securing all parts of the U.S. transportation network, including our waterways.

While the U.S. Coast Guard is the lead federal agency for maritime security, it relies on TSA’s support to screen passengers, vet maritime transportation workers, inspect credentials at maritime facilities and safely connect people and goods to vessels.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, TSA and the Coast Guard engage regularly on the impact of the virus on water transportation. “With the emergence of COVID-19, TSA and the Coast Guard began evaluating potential risks to Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC®) enrollment, vetting, adjudication and card issuance,” said Drew Sindlinger of TSA’s Enrollment Services and Vetting Programs. “The exemption extends the validity of a TWIC® for 180 days for an individual whose TWIC® would otherwise expire between March 1 and July 31, 2020.”

Additionally, Sindlinger said travel restrictions impacted TSA’s in-person participation in many regional, state and local maritime-related events. “TSA was able to overcome this challenge by increased participation in virtual meetings and events,” he said. “In the coming months, TSA plans to continue leveraging virtual events and meetings as mechanisms for ongoing stakeholder engagements.”

“The maritime mode includes 25,000 miles of navigable waters, over 360 ports, 3,700 terminals, 236 locks a

Truck going through checkpoint

t 192 locations and over 1,400 intermodal connections,” said TSA Surface Division Program Analyst Tanya Rawson. “Historically, for passenger screening, TSA has produced six training courses for passenger vessel operators that cover various security topics including general physical security awareness, IEDs, crowd control, anti-terrorism and hostage situations, vessel and terminal evacuation and basic screening procedures employees can perform.”

TSA issues TWIC® cards to workers who need access to secure areas of the nation’s maritime facilities and vessels. “Since 2007, TSA has processed nearly 5.8 million TWIC® enrollments,” said Sindlinger, “and TSA manages approximately 2.3 million active cards.”              

TSA Security Operations’ Jacob Mehl said TSA surface inspectors conduct TWIC® inspections and in fiscal year 2019 performed over 2,100 visits to ports, inspecting nearly 65,000 individual TWIC® cards.

Similar to the airline industry, Rawson said COVID-19 is impacting the shipping industry. “The industry has seen a decrease in the amount of cargo,” she said. “Suppliers, particularly in China, shuttered their plants to prevent disease spread, which meant not shipping their products, and further disruptions to the supply chain occurred when companies saw significantly decreased demand for their merchandise.”

Welcome Aboard

And those planning a cruise this summer are definitely affected by the pandemic with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s No Sail Order for all cruise ships extended until September 30.

“Many countries still have restrictions in place against sailings,” said Rawson. “Canada has shut off its cruises until October 31, effectively ending the season in Canadian waters and impacting a formerly fast growing market in the Great Lakes. Overall, many local businesses and seasonal jobs, which the cruise industry supports, are badly hit in a domino effect.”

This TSA-Coast Guard partnership is crucial in protecting our waterways. Rawson said, “The two agencies have a written agreement in place to share data and have no problem doing so. The Coast Guard is very supportive of TSA training efforts and exercises.”

“TSA and the Coast Guard maintain a productive relationship,” Sindlinger added. “[They] communicate on a regular basis to develop guidance, messaging and policy to secure maritime facilities and vessels.”

And with its maritime success, this partnership is expected to continue for many years to come.