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Student Targets School Safety With RFID Innovation

A Walled Lake Western High School student earned a hackathon award for his RFID-based solution that locates ID badges in order to identify where students are in the event of an emergency.
By Claire Swedberg
Feb 16, 2020

Michigan high school student Yousef El-Chafei has leveraged his own technical know-how, along with some RFID experience from his father, to develop a passive UHF system aimed at improving safety and efficiency at schools. The system he developed uses ClearStream software from Portable Technology Solutions (PTS) to track students or faculty members in schools, in order to provide visibility during an emergency, such as a school shooting.

Walled Lake Western High School, where El-Chafei is currently a junior, is now considering how it might deploy the solution to boost school safety and make attendance more efficient. El-Chafei embarked on his RFID project for a spring hackathon that challenged high school students to solve problems using technology. He tested the solution in his own home, then demonstrated it for hackathon judges in the spring of 2019. That was when some school administrators got their first look at the solution.

Yousef El-Chafei presents his new innovation.
"What an innovative way to protect students and also provide an avenue of understanding where our students are," says Ali Hamka, Walled Lake Western High School's administration principal. El-Chafei won first place in the hackathon and took home a $700 cash award. The system uses RFID badges for students, as well as fixed readers to capture those badge IDs, with ClearStream middleware, so that schools could view where students were last located by the system. With this information, rescue operators or school personnel could view where students are during an emergency, and also better understand who reported to which classrooms for attendance purposes.

El-Chafei had been reading about school shootings, he says, and began strategizing a technological solution that would qualify for the hackathon. His father, Rami El-Chafei, is the VP of technical services at RFID solutions company Lowry Solutions, so Yousef was familiar with RFID technology and what it can accomplish. "I went to my dad and asked if there was a way to know where each student is with RFID," he recalls. He then contacted PTS about its customizable RFID software platform.

From there, El-Chafei started building the system. "It was very simple," he says. He acquired off-the-shelf passive UHF RFID tags and, with the help of his father, installed a reader antenna in the ceiling of his basement, then collected data on his home computer. Each time he entered the basement with a tag, the system identified his arrival, and it then tracked when he left the basement as well. For the hackathon, he planned the deployment at the school.

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