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U.S. State Dept.'s Security Bureau Checks Out Weapons-Tracking RFID App

At one of the agency's armories in Virginia, firearms are being fitted with EPC RFID tags, to automatically track their usage by its agents.
By Claire Swedberg
Dec 02, 2010The U.S. State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS), has installed an RFID-based system at an armory within one of its facilities in the Washington, D.C, area. This enables the department to store an electronic record of which personnel have taken and returned which weapons, while also automating the checkout process. The RFID system can also issue alerts if an unauthorized event occurs. The system, known as EasyArms, was provided by ODIN, an RFID solutions provider and systems integrator based in Ashburn, Va.

The DS develops and implements security programs to safeguard State Department staff working in U.S. diplomatic mission around the world. In the United States, its agents protect the U.S. Secretary of State and the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, as well as visiting foreign dignitaries below the head-of-state level. The bureau stores hundreds of weapons in the armory, a secure room located within one of its buildings. Each is being fitted, either covertly or visibly, with an EPC Gen 2 RFID tag provided by Titan, Confidex, Omni-ID or Xerafy.

ODIN's Kevin MacDonald
The new system also includes EPC Gen 2 passive RFID tags carried by agents who check out those weapons, an RFID portal at the doorway, and ODIN's EasyEdge software (installed on the reader) and EasyArms software (residing on the bureau's back-end server). Once the system is determined to be functioning properly, with a 100 percent read rate, the agency—which has declined to comment for this story—will consider installing the system at its other armories.

The armory stores weapons such as pistols and assault rifles that employees use either in training or while on duty. Upon reporting to the site, agents retrieve the weapons they are authorized to use—typically, about four guns apiece. Each agent utilizes an ID card with a high-frequency (HF) proximity RFID tag, worn on a lanyard around the neck, to unlock the room's only door. Inside that room, the weapons are stored in lockers with combination locks. With the manual checkout method, the agent would select the weapons needed and fills out a sheet of paper indicating his name and ID number, as well as each gun's serial number, make and model.

The problem with the manual method, according to Kevin MacDonald, ODIN's account leader for this deployment, is that it can be time-consuming and inaccurate. An agent must write down all required information, while other employees may be queuing up to do the same. What's more, there is a risk that an agent may fail to record the necessary checkout information. At police armories, MacDonald says, the accuracy rate of weapon tracking can be as low as 50 percent.

By using RFID, the department hopes to increase accuracy and thereby ensure that no weapon is ever misplaced, as well as make the checkout process more efficient. At the armory's single entranceway, ODIN installed an RFID portal consisting of one Sirit ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) EPC Gen 2 IN510 RFID interrogator and four antennas mounted around the doorway. Each staff member has an Alien Technology Squiggle passive EPC Gen 2 RFID tag, attached to the same lanyard used for the ID card.


Roban Bieber 2010-12-02 04:23:18 PM
RFID triggered booby traps What is to prevent a criminal from using this RFID technology to set up a booby trap that is triggered when the rfid tagged weapon approaches the kill zone?
Claire Swedberg 2010-12-06 12:08:16 PM
senior editor Theoretically the scenario you describe is possible, but it wouldn't be practical to target someone using RFID the way you describe. The read range is short enough that the tag would have to be quite close to the reader(within a few feet). There would be a variety of easier and cheaper solutions to trigger booby traps, such as a motion sensor. In addition, EPC Gen 2 passive UHF tags are embedded in many different types of items, including retailer loyalty cards, so such a booby trap would have no way of knowing if the EPC Gen 2 RFID it was reading was embedded in a gun, or in an ID card, or in a garment hangtag, etc.

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