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Advancing personal safety with active RFID

01 February 2012

Clearly, organisations have an obligation to ensure the health and safety of their staff in the working environment, but what about those – thankfully rare - occasions that require the immediate evacuation of staff from a dangerous situation? An interesting development is the use of active RFID technology to track staff in real time – a strategy that can make all the difference in an emergency

Radio frequency identification (RFID) is commonly used to track assets or components that are in transit; but what about those other assets – people – that organisations are often quick to claim as being their ‘most important’?

The Swiss company, Albis Technologies has a reputation for developing active RFID systems to suit a variety of applications and environments. More recently, it has responded to demands for ‘people safety’ systems in those operations and environments that require a high level of worker protection, developing an active RFID based staff tracking system called ‘ZOMOFI’ (Zone Monitoring and Find).

The Netherlands-based organisation, Falck is a leader in rescue and safety courses designed especially for staff in the offshore working and maritime sectors. The company has recently installed ZOMOFI people safety systems at its largest training centres in Holland and, in collaboration with security system provider Nsecure, is currently demonstrating how active RFID not only helps to prevent incidents but also how effective it can be when handling an emergency situation.

“It was a real challenge to implement an active RFID system in a building which is effectively on fire every day, and then doused with 2,400 litres of water per minute,” says Nsecure product manager, Arno Wubben, referring to the everyday operations at Falck’s training centres. “A worse case scenario, of course, but with the Albis’ active RFID technology and Nsecure Yardz management system integration, we have made it a success.”

ZOMOFI is configured with rugged tags and controllers that monitor operations for secure evacuation and people tracking in real-time; it offers high flexibility risk avoidance in rescue situations and improved education and safety. The compact and robust design ensures that the tags are easily carried by personnel or attached directly to the surface of vehicles, containers, and other assets.

Multifunction features allow the level of shock, man-down or free-fall situations to be detected, as well as enabling reading and writing to and from the user data memory. Battery life is between six and ten years, depending on usage, and this is achieved without sacrificing the reading and writing range.

The ZOMOFI Z-Controller comes in two robust versions suitable for indoor and outdoor installations. Both controllers can be built into the durable outdoor case, together with outdoor power supply and connectors to the IT-network and to the RFID antenna. If desired, the antenna can also be contained within the case for maximum protection.

Protected against water splash and dust ingress, the case can be wall-mounted, attached to a pole or installed in a vehicle. One single controller can operate at least 1,000 tags configured across several available topologies, from simple star networks to complex clusters.
As a result of the application at Falck’s training centres, a special Z-Controller has been developed – SpotZone – which is designed specifically to cope with extremely hazardous conditions involving fire, water drenching and small explosions. The ZOMOFI element allows ‘spotting the zone’ for the best possible localisation of people in danger. Each SpotZone is battery driven since cabling in such areas is neither feasible nor cost-effective.

These systems are now increasingly being rolled out across people safety and security applications in multiple sectors. In an offshore environment such as a rig or oil platform, for example, there are many critical areas in which workers are exposed to potential danger. These areas can be monitored by ZOMOFI to provide decision-makers with the number of people present, as well as locating the nearest expert in cases of emergency, and the monitoring of blow out systems and machinery malfunction.

Similarly, in a military environment, the tracking system can be used to monitor the large and constantly moving population of a military base, the location of important equipment, and to maintain control of sensors. And, of course, the technology is also suitable for less critical, but nonetheless important applications in which people monitoring can have security benefits, such as hotels, banks and schools.

Personal RFID - a market view
Dr Peter Harrop, IDTechEx chairman writes: 2011 saw somewhat slower growth of real time locating systems (RTL) in heavy logistics and healthcare, the ongoing recession-proof growth of this embryonic market being created by a wide variety of newer applications notably in oil and gas, mining, aerospace and manufacturing. This was much more than a diversification of existing technologies into new industries and sectors, however.

For example, in January 2011, Essensium signed a contract with Flightcare and POM Vlaams-Brabant to track and trace vehicles at Brussels National Airport using its ‘wide over narrow band’ RTLS. By September 2011, Dundee Precious Metals Inc. had implemented AeroScout's Wi-Fi RFID for tracking people, equipment and vehicles in Chelopech mine in Bulgaria. Worker safety and productivity are improved both on the surface and underground.

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