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Tracking Assets from Prairie to Peak

Within months of deploying RFID to keep tabs on its IT equipment, Colorado's vast El Paso County expects to soon recoup its investment.
By Bob Violino
The county, for example, plans to use RFID to track maintenance tools as they are being checked in and out by mechanics who work for the county. Currently all of the tools are bar-coded and scanned as people check them in and out. RFID tags with fixed readers would allow the tool to be checked in and out by the employees without the assistance of a clerk to scan them (which is how the bar codes are scanned now). To allow this to work, the county will need a way for the system to identify employees so it knows who has which tool, perhaps by having employees wear ID badges with an embedded RFID tag or by having employees scan their badges with a bar code reader.

"This will allow us to have more efficient use of tools by mechanics in the field because we'll know who has what tool and when," Dorpinghaus says. The ability to know which worker is using which tool will be particularly useful for county agencies such as the department of transportation, which typically has many tools in use at any time.

Another tracking application being discussed is using RFID tags in the sheriff's department to track items such as guns and bulletproof vests. The county has no definitive plans to expand its use of RFID technology beyond asset tracking, Dorpinghaus says.

El Paso is not the only U.S. county using RFID technology for tracking purposes. The Department of Aviation in Nevada's Clark County this year began using an RFID system to track passenger baggage at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas (see Las Vegas Airport Bets on RFID). The airport is using passive UHF tags from Matrics (now owned by Symbol Technologies) to track bags as part of its efforts to improve security and reduce the loss of luggage. The system is designed to track baggage from ticket counters and curbside check-ins through screening machines and onto planes.

Pima County in Arizona is using 13.56 MHz tags, cards and readers from Texas Instruments at the Pima County Jail in Tucson for prisoner identification and officer access as part of a security upgrade. Thanks to the program, some 1,600 prisoners are identified and monitored daily via wristbands that contain tags. More than 300 prison officers use RFID-based cards for access to restricted areas in the facility. The system is linked to the county's inmate records database so information can be viewed and updated by jail staff and police officers.

The Harris County Public Library, which serves Houston, is one of a growing number of library systems to deploy RFID technology. It's using RFID-based, self-service kiosks to allow users to access the library's circulation software and check out books. A book's RFID tag is scanned by a reader in the kiosk, and a receipt is printed to tell the patron which books have been borrowed and when they are due to be returned.

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