Wednesday, December 26, 2007

TWIC for Christmas

Wow, that was fast! I had my TWIC enrollment appointment on 12/12/07, and I got an email that my TWIC was ready for pick-up on 12/21/07. Nine days! So, I was down there today, and picked up my TWIC, which didn't take very long - about 20 minutes. You once again have to bring some ID, and then they activate the card, which programs all your data on to a little chip that is embedded in the card itself. During the activation, you choose a seven to nine digit number as your PIN, and that also gets programmed onto the card. And they give you a very fancy hard plastic case so your TWIC doesn't get damaged when you are wearing it. The case and neck lanyard alone must be worth about $10.

So, the card can be used for secure entry in a variety of ways: you might swipe the card like a credit card, and then have to enter your PIN into a keypad. OR, you might just have to show the card to a live security guard, OR, some locations might have a machine that reads the chip on the card, in which case your finger print would scanned and matched to the biometric data on the card, OR, some other combination and permutations of all the above.

I wonder if I'll ever actually use this thing, other than as an ID when I'm passing through airport security...

I got my renewed USCG license in the mail on 12/21/07; also nine days. So, kudos to the Dept of Homeland Security for speedy service.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

UPDATE: Tandem tow anyone?

Remember this blog I posted back in August about the two boats needing assistance, and the story that one boat got left behind and a family spent the night in the water? Here is a quote from the original story:

Shortly before 4 p.m. Aug. 18, a commercial salvage company had been assisting two vessels that had reportedly run out of gas. Upon towing in one of the vessels, when the salvage company returned to tow the other vessel in they were unable to relocate the vessel and then notified the Coast Guard..... The crew of the Falcon located a 25-foot vessel with one person aboard and dropped food, water and a VHF marine radio. Upon establishing communication with the individual through the use of that radio, the person informed the Coast Guard that his vessel began taking on water the last evening and four persons abandoned the vessel around midnight.

Well, the above quoted article didn't quite have the story correct. The actual scenario was far more complicated than that. Here is a more accurate description of the events, from Soundings Magazine November 2007 [read the entire article here]:

The drama began to unfold late Saturday afternoon, Aug. 18, says Capt. Don Cramer, of BoatU.S. Marco Island. That’s when the Coast Guard alerted him to a disabled boat whose skipper had called them for help. The boat’s engine had died and the skipper couldn’t get it started again. Cramer says he couldn’t raise the boat by VHF radio — he believes the skipper was carrying a handheld VHF — so the Coast Guard relayed the boat’s GPS coordinates. Cramer dispatched a towboat about 5 p.m. As the towboat headed out to the vessel’s reported position the Coast Guard advised Cramer of a second disabled boat, which had run out of gas two miles south of the first.

Cramer believes the two boats had gone out fishing together, probably at a communications tower off Cape Romano, because they were in cell phone contact with each other. The skipper of the first boat called the Coast Guard and told them the other boat was in trouble, too. However, the position the skipper gave the Coast Guard now was about 20 miles from the earlier one he had provided. Cramer told his tow captain to make a swing south because the second boat — a 25-footer — had children aboard, and should be rescued first if possible. The tow captain couldn’t find the 25-footer, but he did find the first one and took it under tow.
Then Cramer went out to look for the second boat. Meanwhile, conditions had begun to deteriorate. Winds were....

So, my suggestion that this might have been a chance to conduct a tandem tow was based on completely erroneous information. The true story turned out to be far more complicated and filled with communication breakdowns, nightfall and deteriorating weather. I highly recommend reading the Soundings article.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Easy TWIC'ins

As I promised in my previous post, here is a quick report on progress to get my TWIC. I began by using the Internet to 'Pre-Enroll', and to make an appointment at the closest TWIC enrollment center. All of this is done in conjunction with renewing my USCG Masters license.

The TWIC center was easy to find, in part because the Internet offers a "map it" link when making an appointment. I arrived a few minutes early, and was given a simple questionnaire to fill out; basically some Yes/No check boxes about past criminal activity.

After a brief wait, I was escourted to a table with a nice lady who began by collecting the $132.50 fee. Payment with credit card is encouraged. NO CASH is accepted. The receipt says you just paid Lockheed Martin. So, now we know who the sub-contractor is.

Now, here is where the Pre-Enrollment comes in. When you finished pre-enrolling online, you were instructed to print out a single page that has your name and a large bar code printed on it. You bring that page to the TWIC center with you. They scan your page, and all of information about you that you entered on the internet is now right there. Your name, address, SSN, date of birth, etc, just zip right up on the screen. This saves time, as the nice lady doesn't have to type all this in again; she just shows you the info on a computer screen, and you confirm that it is correct.

Now, you get electronically fingerprinted. No more messy ink pads. They take a lot of prints, but it only takes a few minutes to do.

Finally, you sit for a quick digital photo (presumably this photo will appear on your actual TWIC card). No smiling allowed. No really, you are not allowed to smile for the TWIC photo. If you don't like the first photo, ask them to take another. I blinked on my first try, and she took a second one.

That it. the whole process at the enrollment center only took 10 minutes. Perhaps this is because its all run by a private company and not government employess.

One reminder to you, these folks are very serious about your identity and proof of citizenship. A current US Passport is the only document you need here, but if you don't have one of those, be sure you check the list of acceptable documents.

So, now I wait a few weeks while the TSA and DHS calculate the likelyhood that I intend to blow something up, and then they call me and I have to go back in person to pick up my TWIC. That is the one unavoidable objection to this entire process; you have to make two trips to the TWIC center. For me, its a two hour drive each way. For some of you, it will probably be worse.

Once I finished there, I went over to the USCG Regional Exam Center to file my license renewal application. They had to do three things: take my money ($95.00), take my fingerprints, and check that I had filled out my paperwork properly. Total time at REC: about 1.5 hours.

At both stops, I inquired about how this process might be streamlined for professional mariners. And if there were plans to perhaps join the expiration dates of TWICs and licenses.....mostly I received blank stares and polite shurgs in reply.

DEADLINE NOTE: The deadline for getting TWIC'ed is Sept 25, 2008.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Be TWICs and between.

Well, the TWICs are coming, and theres nothing you can do to stop 'em. TWIC stands for Transportion Worker Idenification Credential. Everyone with a USCG License will have to get one. The actual deadline is a little unclear to me, but my ticket is up for renewal this spring, so I have started the process of getting TWICed. (rhymes with kicked)

Here is a link to the TWIC home page on the internet:

The first order of business is to Pre-Enroll on the internet. This is not manditory, but highly recommended. I went through the pre-enrollment process, and it is very easy. Basically, you complete a few forms on-line that collect your basic data like date of birth, SSN, address, etc.

Then, when you are ready, you make an appointment at your local TWIC center, (which one figures in military speak would be TWICCEN). Making the appointment on-line was also very easy, but only after you have created an 'account' and done the pre-enrollment. I couldn't find my local TWICCEN on the public web pages, but once I logged in to 'my account', the link to the closest centers was very easy, and making the appointment was as simple as one click of the mouse.

So, next week I go to the center and actually go through the application process. I'll keep you posted on developments. In the mean time, take 20 minutes and browse the web link I posted above. The FAQs are very infomative.