CBP to install RFID chip readers at Blaine ports

Published on Thu, Jun 19, 2008 by Meg Olson

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CBP to install RFID chip readers at Blaine ports

By Meg Olson

Another construction project is scheduled to be layered onto the already under-construction Peace Arch port of entry, but Customs and Border Protection (CBP) promises travelers will be rewarded with wait-time relief by fall.

All lanes at Whatcom County ports are being equipped with Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) readers, similar to those used to read NEXUS cards. As the state continues to issue enhanced driver’s licenses (EDLs) with RFID chips, and the U.S. Department of State begins to issue passports and new passcards with the chips, more and more travelers are expected to have documents that are scanned as they approach the inspection booth. “If we don’t have to take a document out of a travelers hand and scan it, it can take seconds off the process,” said CBP public affairs officer Mike Milne. “Over the course of a day, seconds add up to minutes, minutes add up to hours.”

Milne said if the current average for a primary inspection is 45 seconds to one minute, they hope RFID readers will shave at least ten seconds off that time. “In NEXUS it’s 10 seconds or less and that’s why NEXUS is so valuable to us and we encourage people to apply,” he said. As travelers with the RFID documents approach the booth, the RFID chip triggers a database record with basic information about the person to whom the document was issued, which inspectors can visually match to the person in the car.

Installation at Pacific Highway is being completed this week and is scheduled to start on June 23 at Peace Arch. Construction is scheduled for fall at Point Roberts, Sumas, and Lynden. “We’re trying to do it at night to minimize impacts on travelers,” Milne said.

CPB chief officer Tom Schreiber said the software to access databases of document holders is still in development. “It’s going to take a while to work things out,” he said. The new system is expected to be operational by fall, Milne added.

Milne said CBP had decided not to satisfy requests from the state department of licensing to make a lane for RFID document holders only, which would magnify the effect of the time-savings in primary inspection for people who went through the process of obtaining the new documents.

“We’re putting RFID in all lanes to benefit everyone,” he said, with the expectation that over time the majority of documents used to cross the land border will have RFID capability. Dedicated lanes will continue to be available only to NEXUS members, who must pass a background check and be fingerprinted.

In a June 11 press release, Michelle James, director of field operations for the CBP’s Seattle district, explained that the new technology was only one of the ways the agency was trying to cut wait times. “The deployment of RFID readers along with other steps should reduce congestion and long lines,” she said.

Milne said additional steps included dedicating officers to traffic control, using two officers in a booth – one who talks with travelers and the other who does the data entry, or having officers working in the lanes before primary to ask travelers to get their documents ready.