An excerpt from RFIDJournal
RFID-enabled Lockers Help U.K. Organizations Manage Electronic Equipment
Britain’s Highways Agency, police departments and schools are using Traka’s lockers to monitor the storage of radios and other devices, as well as those who use that equipment, and when.
By Claire Swedberg
More than 100 Highways Agency offices within the United Kingdom are managing the use of the organization’s radios by means of a radio frequency identification solution that records when each radio is placed into or removed from a secured locker, and by whom. The technology was developed by Traka, a division of ASSA Abloy.
Traka, based in England, has provided electronic key-management solutions since 1990. At the heart of the key-management systems is the company’s Traka iFob, a bullet-shaped device containing a passive RFID tag encoded with a unique ID number. Keys are permanently attached to an iFob via a security seal, with each iFob assigned a particular location within a Traka key cabinet, and locked in place until released by an authorized user.
More recently, Traka developed its RFID-based solution to track assets entering and leaving lockers, initially intended for use by police departments. Since then, the RFID-enabled lockers have remained in use for several years, not only by the Highways Agency—which is responsible for operating, maintaining and improving England’s primary road network, as well as U.K. police departments—but also in schools.
The company had previously provided a variety of products and solutions related to the access control of keys or other items using biometrics, PIN codes or magnetic ID cards to ensure that only authorized personal can access a locker, and thus any assets stored within it. The addition of RFID technology, however, provides a greater degree of visibility, since users could determine whether an asset is actually in a specific locker, based on information culled by an RFID interrogator built into the locker, as well as a 125 kHz passive RFID tag, compliant with the ISO 11784 and ISO 11785 standards, attached to the asset stored at that location. The system’s software can also determine who has a particular item, based on which personnel accessed the locker at the time of its removal, according to John Kent, Traka’s president and founder.
The Highways Agency is responsible for maintaining the nationwide road network within the United Kingdom. In 2010, it adopted Traka’s Intelligent Airwave solution, in order to help the organization comply with the U.K. government’s Airwave Code of Practice, which pertains to the auditing of radios operating over the Airwave radio network. Airwave, a secure, encrypted digital national radio network owned and operated by Airwave Solutions Ltd., is dedicated for the exclusive use of the United Kingdom’s emergency services, along with those organizations with a recognized public-safety responsibility. U.K regulations require that government agencies keep an eye on the Airwave radio terminals used by their staff, in part by conducting a full audit at least twice annually, with one physical audit mandatory.
Until the RFID system was installed, tracking every radio was a time-consuming process, involving the collection of location data for each device, and then manually writing it down using paper and pen. To save on costs, the radios are shared by multiple employees working successive shifts. This is the less expensive alternative to issuing a specific radio to each employee, which would require the purchase of considerably more radios. Because of this sharing, however, the Highways Agency’s office managers did not know the number of times that each item had been used, or by whom. With Traka’s Intelligent Airwave solution—consisting of RFID-enabled lockers, RFID asset tags and software to manage read events—the radios can be utilized by multiple workers, and data can be tracked electronically regarding when they are removed and returned, as well as which employee has which radio at any given moment.
Over the past two years, the solution was installed at 150 office locations throughout the country, enabling the agency to track the use of each radio. Upon approaching a locker, an employee swipes the magnetic stripe of his or her ID card through the locker’s magnetic card reader, which recognizes that person’s ID and unlocks the locker. The user can then take out the radio. The RFID tag affixed to that radio has a read range of approximately 50 millimeters (2 inches), and once the radio is removed, the locker’s RFID reader is no longer able to interrogate the tag. The reader then forwards that new status to the Traka software, residing on each office’s back-end system, thereby indicating that the asset has been removed.
At the end of the shift, the employee again swipes his or her mag-stripe ID card to open the locker and return the item, at which time the interrogator can once again read the object’s tag and update data in the software accordingly. The worker can also indicate the radio’s condition, using the keypad mounted outside the locker. For example, if the item was not functioning properly, that information could be noted as the asset was returned.
The software enables managers to view each radio’s status in real time, and to determine which radios are stored within which particular locker, using a dashboard provided by the software. Personnel can also receive alerts. For example, if an individual goes to the locker and opens it, but then fails to place the item inside, an alert can be issued via e-mail or SMS text message. A similar alert can be sent in the event that an asset is not returned when expected, such as at the end of an individual’s work shift.
Recently, Kent says, British schools have also been using the technology. Schools often supply students and staff members with electronic equipment, such as PDAs, Apple iPads and laptop computers, and the system is being utilized in classrooms and libraries to track to whom items are assigned, as well as when they are returned.
According to Kent, Traka develops and manufactures its own readers and antennas, while using RFID tags from a variety of suppliers.
Since the system’s installation, Kent reports, the Highways Agency’s offices have experienced a boost in operational efficiency, by reducing the amount of time that workers previously spent auditing the radios. “The system has also improved [the agency’s] terminal-monitoring capability,” he states, “and ensured it can more easily comply with Airwave Code of Practice.”
Representatives of the Highways Agency were unavailable for comment for this story.