BP Refinery Uses RFID for Evacuation System

By Claire Swedberg

At its Cherry Point facility, the oil giant has deployed an ultra-wideband tracking system to keep tabs on personnel in the event of a fire or explosion.


BP Cherry Point, BP’s oil refinery in Cherry Point, Washington, has launched an RFID personnel-tracking system. The site’s “Location Aware Safety System” will be used to ascertain the whereabouts of 2,000 staff members, contractors and visitors.

The refinery, reportedly the largest in Washington State, produces 3.5 million gallons of gasoline, 2.5 million gallons of jet fuel and 2.2 million gallons of diesel fuel each day. Under the new tracking system, all employees, contractors and visitors at BP Cherry Point will wear RFID-enabled badges in the refinery’s processing area, tank farm and docks, allowing BP operators to determine where they are in the event of an emergency, such as a fire or explosion.

Multispectral Solutions’ Rob Mulloy

BP Cherry Point will use the system to better fulfill OSHA‘s Process Safety Management (PSM) standard for management of hazardous chemicals, according to BP Cherry Point senior safety engineer Tim O’Neill. “We need to be able to account for every employee in the case of an emergency,” he explains.

The active RFID tags in the badges allow BP to track where all its employees and visitors are, quickly determine if someone remains in the facility and identify that individual’s name and location.

BP Cherry Point is using an IBM WebSphere software system with a custom tracking interface known as Atlas to collect data, as well as Multispectral Solutions’ RFID badges with active ultra-wideband (6.0 GHz to 6.5 GHz) RFID tags that transmit a unique ID number every second. Each badge is a quarter inch thick, weighs 1.8 ounces and is powered by batteries expected to last about two years, says Rob Mulloy, Multispectral Solutions’ senior vice president. The badges costs about $40 each, O’Neill says. Multispectral is also providing about 10 stationary readers at a cost of about $3,000 apiece, as well as handheld readers.

Previously, the refinery used bar-coded ID cards to track who entered or left the facility. The company replaced these with passive RFID badges, which could allow employees access to and from the refinery through a turnstile. Facility procedure requires that employees go to an appointed evacuation area during emergencies, but tracking them out of the facility using bar codes was cumbersome because it required that each badge be scanned individually at close range. The passive proximity badges could not be read reliably in evacuation events in which large numbers of people on foot and in vehicles move rapidly through the exit, Mulloy says. Therefore, during emergency evacuations, the refinery used a simple headcount procedure.

The new system covers a 600,000-square-foot area broken into about eight different sections, each with a monitor that operators can use to determine who is still in that area of the facility during an emergency. Readers at evacuation points should be able to capture data from every badge-wearing employee passing through the exit gate. If someone remains in the facility, the monitor will display that person’s location. The operator can then bring the cursor over that person’s image, identifying the person assigned to that particular RFID badge.

The refinery ran a trial of the active RFID system at the reformer section of the facility earlier this year. It intends to increase the coverage area to about 1.5 million square feet by the third quarter of 2006.

Readers can determine where badge wearers are within 1 foot of their true location, Mulloy says, as they stand between readers located as far as 1,000 to 1,500 feet away.

“There are certainly some technical challenges,” says Mulloy, pointing out the considerable metal around the facility as one example. The Multispectral system works better than most in this environment, he says, because the RFID tags transmit at short ultra-wideband bursts, enabling them to be read more reliably around metals.

“Cherry Point is very forward-thinking,” says O’Neill. “It’s a very technologically savvy facility. They like being on the forefront and finding ways to do things better.” Other members of the industry, he predicts, may also benefit from BP’s research and development for this project.