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Wake Forest Tests Asset-Protecting RFID System

The North Carolina university has deployed an RFID-based system that can be set to provide police with automatic alerts and video whenever a high-value item is removed without authorization.
By Claire Swedberg
Jan 08, 2007Wake Forest University, in Winston-Salem, N.C., is entering a second phase in piloting an RFID-based system designed to help the school to track and protect assets.

"We view ourselves as part of the community of Winston-Salem," says Phil May, Wake Forest's assistant director of infrastructure. "People live here, and we want to provide an environment that will better their lifestyle, including making this a safe place to live and keep your assets." He says the university began looking at RFID technology as a way to protect assets, then chose its James R. Scales Fine Arts Center as the site for its initial pilot because high-value assets are located there, and because thefts have been a problem. Prior to using this system, the school deployed cameras that could provide police with videotape for review whenever an asset was discovered missing. Sometimes, that meant reviewing weeks' worth of tape.

Phil May
Two years ago, Wake Forest installed active RFID readers at the 12 egress points of the building, and began attaching RFID tags to 20 university-owned items, including video projectors and music keyboards. May is unwilling to name the manufacturers, or indicate the tags and readers' operating frequencies, since he says the school is still reviewing the best hardware for the system and is considering both active and passive RFID.

May says this phase of its implementation provided only raw location data. "It was quickly obvious that a solution was needed that would allow the automated correlation and reaction to that data," he says.

Three months ago, Wake Forest took the project to the next step by launching the SyncSeer asset-management solution, a modular software package from Tyco Electronics, developed in conjunction with Versatile Systems for collecting tag data read by RFID interrogators and acting on that information. The system will allow Wake Forest to integrate business rules to allow RFID data to be used in a variety of ways. For example, Mays says, the university could write instructions about whether a tagged asset can be moved, who can move it and even the times it can be moved. In the event that these rules are violated, the SyncSeer system can automatically alert the university, the police or some other party, depending on the business rules.

Most of the 12 readers are deployed at doorways, May says, though the university is also testing a broader coverage to allow the ability to track an item's active tags wherever they are located within the building, and whether a tag is being tampered with. "SyncSeer will send out an alert if the asset doesn't 'check in' in a predefined amount of time," he says.

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