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RFID Tracks College Campus Keys

Luther College is using an active RFID-enabled security system from Headwater Systems to track the keys to 56 buildings on campus.
By Beth Bacheldor
Jun 25, 2007Luther College, located in the small northeast town of Decorah, Iowa, is installing an active RFID-enabled security system to help it track key rings containing a number of master keys. These keys are used to lock and unlock 56 buildings and more than a dozen other key-access facilities on the college's 800-acre campus.

The college is utilizing Minneapolis-based Headwater Systems' Watchdog real-time locating system (RTLS), which includes active 418 MHz RFID tags encased in black plastic. According to Christopher Barth, Luther's executive director of library and information services, the tags will be affixed to about 75 key rings. Each ring will contain several master keys and be welded to prevent the keys from being removed, then stored in lock boxes.

Fewer than 10 lock boxes are located throughout the campus, and RFID interrogators will be installed in the ceiling above the cabinets containing the boxes. Each interrogator includes a Power over Ethernet (POE) connection. "We also plan to cover strategic entrances and exits across campus," Barth explains, "to gain greater tracking capabilities for the movement of keys."

Whenever a tagged key ring is removed from a lock box, the RFID system will record when that key ring was removed from the box. The system, says Alex Fjelstad, CEO of Headwater Systems, will also send a text message or e-mail to alert designated Luther staff members of the key ring's removal. The interrogators throughout the campus, says Barth, will record when the key ring passes within range, providing a record of the rings' movement.

The Watchdog tags have a battery life of up to seven years and emit an RF signal at preprogrammed rates, HeadWater Systems reports, ranging from once every 10 seconds to once per hour. The receivers can detect tag signals from as far away as 300 feet, and the system calculates the location of the tag to within a few feet of its actual position.

Headwater Systems has developed proprietary Web-based software that runs on a PC and lets users access data online to check the locations of tagged items at any given time. This software also correlates the RFID tags' unique ID numbers with information about each key ring, such as the building or buildings for which a particular ring is designated.

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