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RFID Secures Command Center at Boston Pops Concerts

For a Fourth of July event held at the city's Esplanade, EPC Gen 2 tags and portals tracked who entered the room where federal, state and local officials worked to ensure public safety.
By Claire Swedberg
Jul 10, 2009On July 3 and 4, when the Boston Pops' Fourth of July concerts took place at the city's Esplanade along the Charles River, 500,000 audience members descended upon the area, as well as 20 federal, state and local agencies to ensure their safety. The annual program, which concludes with a fireworks display on July 4, is managed by nonprofit group Boston 4 Productions (B4), and has become one of the United States' largest Independence Day celebrations. At each event, public safety agencies operate a single command center in a local college's student union building. This year, B4 maintained the security and traffic flow of that unified command center (UCC) using RFID technology. By embedding passive EPC Gen 2 RFID tags in staff members' pendants, and by installing two RFID portals (one for entering the command center, the other for exiting it), B4 was able to quickly identify authorized personnel and grant them access, says Rich MacDonald, one of B4's co-producers.

RFID Global Solution provided the software system, known as "Credentials," to manage data related to each RFID tag read. Students from Middlesex Community College's RFID Technician Training Program assisted with installation, and also provided RFID interrogators and computers. Video company Fenwick Technologies provided additional computers and a surveillance camera mounted at the UCC's entrance.

The unified command center was manned by officials from 20 federal, state and local agencies.

The UCC includes a seat for at least one member of every agency in attendance, comprising approximately 65 seats altogether. The command center has video screens that display the concert area, as well as weather information, and data and video feeds from helicopters. Agency personnel also use the center for radio dispatching. "When we start [building the UCC], there is nothing on site, just a blank room," MacDonald says, noting that within a week, B4 sets up the room with all of the necessary technology.

Before 2008, there was no access control to the room other than human security guards who confirmed personnel's credentials as they entered. Shortly before the 2008 Fourth of July program, MacDonald says, B4 began considering RFID solutions to the traffic problem in and out of the command center. "It was getting too busy in there," he explains. "There were too many people stopping in, so that those who were working in there didn't always have room to get their jobs done."

B4 went to Middlesex Community College to visit its RFID technology center. The college has an ongoing relationship with multiple public safety agencies, as well as RFID Global Solution, says Neil Sheer, the college's associate dean of engineering and technology. Faculty members mentioned RFID Global Solution, he says, which agreed to assist in building the system and donating the Credentials software, as well as RFID tags and an interrogator.

For the 2008 Fourth of July concert and fireworks show, the collaborative group installed a low-power ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) EPC Gen 2 RFID interrogator, cabled to a computer, and issued RFID tags for authorized personnel to wear into the command center. The deployment was promising, says Joe Leone, RFID Global Solution's president and CTO, but the low-power system was designed to function as a proximity reader, so the pendants had a very short read range and needed to be placed close to the interrogator in order to be recognized. If one tag was unreadable, all traffic was held up as an individual's tag had to be verified.

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