1998 Finalist
US Federal Government
Innovations in American Government Awards
Innovations in American Government Awards

As international border traffic to and from the US becomes heavier, and security measures become more rigorous, travelers find themselves subject to increasingly disruptive delays. The Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection (SENTRI) aims to reduce delays by combining state-of-the-art technologies with a new border inspection philosophy. The application of these new methods has reduced some travelers' delays from two hours to two minutes.

In 1994, SENTRI was spawned from a 13 member team composed of members from several federal organizations, including the FBI, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and the US Attorney's Office. The team's goal was to speed the inspection process for low-risk travelers by overhauling the traditional one inspector, one vehicle methodology.

The result was a new process in which frequent border crossers could be given a special status that allowed them to be inspected very quickly. The SENTRI process begins when frequent crossers, dubbed SENTRI travelers, visit the SENTRI enrollment center. These citizens must demonstrate that they are of little risk to United States security. They then undergo an extensive data collection and pre-screening process. Applicants must be interviewed and fill out a comprehensive questionnaire that asks for more than a hundred biographic facts. The SENTRI staff then takes fingerprints and biometric readings of applicant's hands. On a daily basis, SENTRI computers refresh and verify participants' low-risk status. License plate readers also regularly perform queries against law enforcement databases.

Once given SENTRI status, travelers are able to approach crossing ports in a specially designated traffic lane. Electronics in this lane screen approved vehicles and their occupants every time they cross. Once the travelers reach the inspection booth they are faced with little, if any, delay.

SENTRI has effectively achieved a reduction in delays while producing a methodology far more effective than traditional ones. In the two years of operation, no narcotics violations have surfaced in SENTRI lanes. SENTRI has also turned away and flagged nearly 500 high-risk crossers who have been forced to use regular lanes. The reduction in regular traffic affected by SENTRI has allowed inspectors to perform much more thorough, and therefore secure, inspections of non-SENTRI traffic.