VA, MD responders get digital ID cards

As funding is cut back for smart cards, DC area counties deliver 75,000 credentials to police, fire and rescue personnel.

Virginia and Maryland will be the first states to deliver high-tech credentials to police, firefighters and emergency workers to carry in a regional crisis. The program is limited to counties surrounding Washington DC. In Northern Virginia, 4,000 cards with digital fingerprints will be delivered to first responders. In Maryland counties, 3,500 such credentials will go to police, fire and rescue workers, The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports.

The credentials "know who you are, they know what you are in terms of your qualifications and skills, and they know your security clearance," said Steven M. Mondul, Virginia's deputy assistant to the governor for commonwealth preparedness.

The lack of verifiable ID at the Pentagon on Sept. 11 was a source of trouble.

"They were coming in from the District of Columbia, Maryland and all of Northern Virginia," said Debbie Powers, deputy coordinator of emergency management in Arlington. "It made it really hard to manage the incident initially."

The current credential program is a dramatic scale-back from the plan originally announced. The states had planned to spend $3.9 million on smart cards for 200,000 first responders. The new project will spend only $1.5 million for the digital fingerprint cards. The funding only covers the greater Washington area but not DC itself. And there is no DHS funding to expand the program.

Arlington is the primary test site for what the government calls the "first responder authentication credential," or FRAC. The system was developed by Johnson Controls Inc., based in Milwaukee, as part of a consortium of big corporations with technological expertise. The system incorporates a person's identity documents, professional background, a photograph, and a digitized fingerprint that serves as biometric identification.


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