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RFID-based System Tracked Victims of Hurricanes Gustav, Ike

The state of Texas employed EPC Gen 2 tags, GPS and bar-coding to monitor the process of evacuating individuals—particular the elderly, sick or disabled—who lacked access to transportation during the storms.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Nov 12, 2008Living through a hurricane is a traumatic, emotionally taxing experience for anyone—especially those who lack the means to flee from its path. This became glaringly obvious as the world watched and read about the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. And it was one of the main drivers behind an emergency program spearheaded in 2006 by Texas Governor Rick Perry.

The system employs a combination of RFID, GPS and bar-code technology, and was designed to simplify and automate the evacuation process of elderly, sick, disabled or able-bodied individuals or families who have no access to transportation during an emergency (see An RFID Port in a Storm). This summer, the system was deployed to help the state's Division of Emergency Management evacuate 34,800 residents during Hurricanes Gustav and Ike.

A portable RFID portal captures the ID number of the wristband tag of an evacuee fleeing Hurricane Ike.

"From the standpoint of what the state was looking to achieve, the system was very successful," says Kenneth Ratton, cofounder of Radiant RFID, which provides the RFID hardware and software for the system.

During Hurricane Katrina, many Louisiana residents were transported—often without any identification—to Texas. But then, close on Katrina's heels, Hurricane Rita bore down on regions of that state, requiring the movement of many Katrina evacuees once more. By that point, however, keeping tabs on who was being evacuated, and to where, was so complex that in many cases, emergency personnel effectively lost track of evacuees for days—particularly special-needs individuals who were disabled or sick and, thus, could not easily provide their identifies to the medical teams.

"Not all people think about, or have the capacity to call, their next of kin to let them know where they are going during an evacuation," Rattan says. "During Hurricane Rita, it sometimes took [relatives] weeks to find [evacuated] people. In Gustav, it took minutes or seconds to find people [who were being tracked with the new system]."

The system was tested during simulated emergencies, then deployed in preparation for Hurricane Dean during 2007, but that storm ultimately changed course, resulting in no evacuations in the Gulf Coast cities where the system would have been employed. Consequently, Hurricanes Gustav and Ike provided the first real test of the system, which includes wristbands containing an Alien Technology Higgs 2 EPC Gen 2 inlay and a custom antenna codeveloped by Radiant and RCD Technology. Printed in bar-code form on each wristband is the same ID number encoded to the RFID inlay. Radiant also created custom RFID portals designed to be easily transported and set up at evacuation centers. The portals, which contain Motorola interrogators, capture the ID number encoded to each wristband as evacuees pass through them on foot, in wheelchairs or on gurneys.

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