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In Haiti, RFID Brings Relief

In its efforts to provide assistance to the earthquake-damaged nation, the U.S. Department of Defense is using 433 MHz active RFID tags to track supplies and equipment.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
When a tagged container arrives in Haiti, a fixed-position reader installed at the port captures the tag ID number and pulls its associated manifest from the ITV database, so that personnel know what they're receiving. According to Goss, three handheld RFID interrogators are also used to locate specific containers, to receive containers in the event of power outages knocking the fixed-position reader out of service, and to perform a daily inventory of the tagged containers warehoused at the terminal.

"Does RFID help the operation? Sure. In looking up specific shipment information [or specific containers], it's helpful. But it's only one tool of the larger ITV network," Goss states, referring to the GPS, bar-code and other auto-ID technologies employed in the ITV platform. Furthermore, he adds, tracking containers via RFID helps military logisticians obtain a big-picture view of the type and number of shipments that move around the globe.

The Haiti terminal is now used more for shipping equipment and other military property from that country back to Jacksonville than for transporting aid to Haiti, Goss says, as the amount of basic aid supplies being shipped in declines. In total, he says, more than 3,000 pieces—a piece is any logistical unit, from a single pallet to a massive equipment item—have been shipped to that country.

From a logistical point of view, Riddle says, a number of lessons were learned from the Haiti aid mission. One important lesson is that those within the DOD who rely on the ITV network must take active ownership of its use, and embrace the role that RFID technology plays in tracking shipments. "What we need to reinforce is the mindset toward RFID," he states. "Nowhere is it more important than in [tracking] supply aid like this, because the supplies were absolutely critical to get it in quickly. Did we see a deterioration [of the tagging effort] in the front end? Yes, because we were moving so fast."

The first shipments arriving in Haiti had been loaded onto containers as quickly as they arrived from vendors or military warehouses—and, as noted, not all containers were RFID-tagged. According to Riddle, there is room for improvement when it comes to utilizing RFID and tracking goods moving through the military supply chain, because when tags are not attached to shipments at their point of origin, that creates additional work for personnel downstream. "We're all guilty [of missing steps in the tagging and tracking process], but you can't wish away the manpower that's needed to maintain the integrity of the ITV network, and that's a huge challenge in a rapid-deployment situation."

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