TAMPA — MacDill Air Force Base is bringing its gate security into the 21st century, and possibly beyond.
After decades of eyeballing identification cards and waving people through, Hillsborough County's second-largest employer is installing a computer database system with scannable ID cards.
One day, this Defense Biometric ID System could follow in the path of high-security military bases by replacing cards with fingerprint or hand scans.
"As times change, we need to look at our security measures to make sure we're up to date," said Sgt. Bryan Gatewood, a spokesman for the 13,000-employee base. "It's just one of the tools we're using to keep up with technology and keep Tampa Bay safe."
The cards provide a much-needed upgrade for a base that has had its share of security issues.
In June, a man and woman driving an sport utility vehicle that contained guns and ammunition tried to get through the MacDill security gate with fake IDs. And in May, an off-duty FBI agent shot and killed a visiting Army veteran after a confrontation and chase at the base.
Lt. Mark Graff said the new gate security system is not in response to any particular incident. The technology has been available for years and the base has had it since January 2009. Graff said installation, training and other factors have kept it from being implemented until this year.
Bases around the world, beginning with those in South Korea and Japan, have been using the system since the early 2000s. Some high-security bases, including those in Kuwait and Qatar, use electronic fingerprint or hand scans instead of cards.
Gatewood said he was unaware of any plans for MacDill to eventually use fingerprint scans, though the new database system will carry people's fingerprints on file and is capable of using scans in the future.
Besides a photo, the cards store biographical data including gender, height and weight that pops up on a screen when scanned.
The system will alert guards if the person reported a card stolen or is wanted by police. It can also determine at any given time how many people are on base.
While the new system is in place and ready to use, employees who regularly come and go on the base are still in the "educational phase" and all need to be issued new cards, said Staff Sgt. Victor Ferriera.
Military personnel, long-term contractors, civilian workers and retirees who regularly visit are among those who need to register for the new cards, which are expected to make security checks faster and easier once everyone has them. One-time or short-term visitors will not need to be in the system.
Base security officials have spread notices and bulletins urging everyone to register, Ferriera said. Anyone who flashes an old ID card at the gate will be reminded about the change.
Officials hope all employees and people who regularly visit the base will have the new security cards with bar codes by the end of the year.
Emily Nipps can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8452.