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British Red Cross Tests RFID for Equipment Tracking

The agency hopes to use passive EPC tags and readers to identify which assets are located at an emergency event, as well as who are responsible for them, reducing the risk that they might be lost or underutilized.
By Claire Swedberg
Nov 12, 2013

The British Red Cross has begun piloting a radio frequency identification system at its Bristol warehouse and London headquarters, in order to identify equipment used during emergency-response scenarios around the world. Approximately 500 assets, such as laptops, satellite telephones, forklifts, vehicles and generators, are being fitted with passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags that will be read via handheld readers as the items are sent into the field for use by Red Cross volunteers, and again when they are returned. If the British Red Cross determines that the technology works effectively, the agency plans, by January 2014, to begin deploying the technology for field use by local supervisors, at emergency sites worldwide. The organization expects to apply tags to about 5,000 assets at that time.

The system, provided by AIDC Solutions is intended to enable the agency to better manage its assets as they move across the globe in the care of a fleet of volunteers, according to David Myers, AIDC's operations director.

The British Red Cross plans to use UHF EPC passive RFID tags and readers at its warehouses, such as this one, to manage its equipment.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) maintains branches within 187 countries that respond to crises around the world. Those branches send volunteers to emergency sites—often working in an internationally coordinated effort to provide humanitarian aid—and then support those communities throughout their recovery. At the British Red Cross (as with other IFRC branches), volunteers and technical teams are typically sent to the site with Red Cross equipment, such as laptops and satellite phones. When a volunteer's service has finished, he or she returns those assets to a field supervisor, so they can be stored onsite and then reassigned to the next volunteer. This system can lead to confusion regarding where equipment is located and who has it at any given time, however, especially as the complexity of deployments grows, explains David Northfield, the British Red Cross' logistic support officer.

The amount of equipment sent to emergency sites is increasing, Northfield reports. At present, sites can require not only mobile phones, laptops or construction equipment, but also sophisticated measurement devices or movie projectors—all of which must be accounted for as the volunteers come and go from emergency projects. "We need to be prepared to account for those assets," he states, "to provide accountability to our donors."

The British Red Cross intends to gain visibility into where specific equipment is located, as well as who is responsible for those assets and when an item is being underutilized (based on it remaining in the local warehouse for an extensive period of time). The solution will include Omni-ID UHF RFID tags affixed to assets, handheld readers deployed at emergency sites, and TransitionWorks software running on the British Red Cross' own server to remotely identify who has which equipment at sites throughout the world.

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