Tighter security changes are under way at Navy bases throughout Key West that officials say will streamline access for vendors and contractors, but those who need access should begin making preparations now, officials said.
Those civilian service providers, contractors and vendors who need regular access to Naval Air Station Key West on Boca Chica Key, Sigsbee Park, Trumbo Point and Truman Annex need to register for a new ID program by Oct. 1, said Navy Deputy Security Officer Jose Maldonado.
The new RAPIDGate program ID cards will allow those who qualify to get on base quicker, as guards will scan the cards for computer approval and wave through approved vehicles, a process that should take seconds as opposed to the current logjams that sometimes occur at the gates, Maldonado said.
"The way it works now, we have to run a background check first and then issue either a paper pass for the short term or a badge for long-term access," Maldonado said. "When that happens we still have to do vehicle searches every time and search everything you're bringing on the installation, which can cause backups."
RAPIDGate card holders still will be subjected to random vehicle searches.
"With the new system, what we're basically saying is, 'OK, you're trustworthy,' " Maldonado said.
The Navy essentially is contracting the administrative burden of doing background checks to Eid Passport Inc., the private company that operates the RAPIDGate program, said Key West Navy spokesman Jim Brooks. The company will perform background checks on new cardholders every 90 days, as opposed to every three years under the old paperwork system.
"Military rules on access is more strict on the general public," Brooks said. "For instance we don't allow sex offenders or convicted felons on the property. If a contractor has an employee with that kind of background, he doesn't get a badge, and we've already had a few instances of that." All 63 Navy bases nationwide, including Hawaii and Guam, will convert to the system, Brooks said.
"Vendors now have to come through our inspection stations and this will basically put an end to that," Maldonado said.
Those vendors and contractors who don't sign up for RAPIDGate can still access the bases, but only between 7 and 10 a.m. and their vehicle and contents still must be searched, Maldonado said.
"Let's say the guy delivering Coke or Pepsi did something wrong and he shouldn't be given access, but he came early before we got the report," Maldonado said. "The system will tell us he's here. It will also give a pretty accurate picture of who is on the installations at any given time."
In 2007, a Joint Interagency Task Force South civilian employee at Truman Annex caused a base-wide shutdown after he began threatening employees. No was one hurt and the man was barred access to the base. The new RAPIDGate program probably wouldn't have curbed that incident, Brooks said.
"That guy had a DOD [Department of Defense] ID," Brooks said. "That was a workplace violence issue and there's a whole other protocol for that."
The Navy is also placing the cost of the new program on the contract companies, who will have to pay $199 to access the cards and another $159 for each employee. Both of those fees must also be paid annually, Maldonado said.
The Navy is advising all companies to sign up for the new cards as early as they can. Call Navy security at 305-293-2698 for more information.