RFID Personnel Tracking: Why The Conspiracy Theories Are Wrong

What comes to mind when you hear the phrase, “people tracking?” Does the term instantly conjure up an image of Big Brother-style surveillance? Do you picture a Bourne Identity scenario in which the government is capable of tracking your every move? Based on the way RFID is discussed in science fiction, and even mainstream news channels, we couldn’t blame you. But a basic understanding of RFID – how it functions, its limitations, and how it is used to track people – would put any myths to rest. Once you know how RFID personnel tracking works, you’ll probably find some of the RFID conspiracy theories pretty entertaining. We sure do.

Personnel tracking (a fancier and less fear-inducing term for “people tracking”) has many constructive, valuable uses. But before we get into how it’s used, let’s take a moment to separate fact from fiction and discuss how it works.

RFID Personnel Tracking: The Facts Behind the Fiction

There are several technologies that can be used to build a personnel tracking system, including RFID, NFC, and beacons. While we do work with all three of these and would be happy to talk to you about which is best for your use case, for the sake of simplicity, we are going to focus on RFID here.

One of the most basic components of an RFID system is the RFID tag. And the very first thing to know about an RFID system is that, contrary to what you might gather from conspiracy theories, an RFID tag can do nothing on its own. An RFID tag is not a surveillance camera. The tag simply contains encoded information about the item it’s attached to. To collect this information, you need a reader. To help boost the signal between a tag and a reader, you need an antenna.

There are several different tag types and multiple frequency levels over which different tags can be read. Tags can be active or passive, and low frequency, high frequency (HF), or ultra high frequency (UHF). Which one you need depends on factors such as what you’re trying to track, how many of these things you’re tracking, where you’re tracking it, what it’s made out of, and how close the object is to where the reader is positioned. Materials such as water or metal can interfere with the signal; because the human body is largely made of water, special considerations must be made when using RFID to track people.

So, we’re not saying it’s not possible, but it would take an infinite number of readers and some pretty savvy configuration to track one person’s location around a single city – let alone around the world –  for 24 hours a day using RFID!

True Story: Four Uses for Personnel Tracking

Now that we’ve explained the basics of how RFID works and, hopefully, you have a better idea of what it can’t do, let’s talk about what it can do. Here are just a few of the valuable ways that companies are using RFID personnel tracking to ensure a safe, efficient, and productive environment.

1. Children on School Buses

Schools are responsible for much more than educating children. Twice a day, five days a week, schools around the country are tasked with transporting thousands of children – a massive logistical undertaking, if you think about it.

While mistakes are statistically uncommon, even one mistake is too many when it comes to children. Now, school systems are using RFID personnel tracking to provide chain of custody details regarding the children in their care and to reduce the risk of any child exiting the bus at the wrong stop. By affixing a tag to children’s backpacks (or on wristbands, lanyards, etc.) and positioning a reader at the doorway of each bus, schools can track when and where a child entered and exited the bus. This way, schools can quickly identify a child’s last known location.

2. Residents at Nursing Homes

One of the toughest challenges that staff at nursing homes face is keeping residents safe without limiting their independence. Patients with dementia can wander off site, putting them at great risk of getting lost or injured. One way to prevent this is to confine them to smaller, better-monitored areas. While this method can create a more safe environment for people with dementia, it is also much more limiting and inhibits their quality of life.

Now, nursing homes are turning to RFID people tracking solutions as a non-confining alternative for keeping track of residents with dementia. RFID tags are affixed to shoes, clothing, or on wristbands worn by nursing home residents. Readers, positioned above building entrances and exits, read the tags as they go by and sound an alarm that alerts nursing home staff when at-risk patients try to leave the building.

3. Time and Attendance

RFID is automating the process of tracking employee work hours, replacing the old punch-card time clocks and minimizing time fraud. Instead of swiping or punching in and out with a time card, now employees can simply tap an RFID-tagged badge to a reader that keeps track of their arrival and departure times.

RFID can also be used to track participation and attendance at conference sessions and critical training courses. Statistical data shows that safety training is essential to preventing accidents and injuries. However, it is only effective if employees attend and complete their training.

RFID personnel tracking ensures that all employees are present to receive critical training. It can also identify any employees who aren’t present or who may leave the room before the presentation is finished. Employees wear RFID-enabled badges or wristbands; a reader, usually positioned above a doorway, scans the tags as they go by and sends the information to a database.

4. Hazardous Worksite Safety

If your personnel work in or around hazardous areas, it’s important to know where your people are at all times – or, at the very least, you need to be able to locate them quickly in the event of an emergency. And personnel who don’t belong in hazardous areas are actually a threat to everyone’s safety if they spend time in these areas without receiving proper training on how to prevent or respond to an accident.

RFID personnel tracking enables you to monitor and limit employee access and gives you the insight to know when and which employees have entered and exited hazardous areas. You can also receive an alert that indicates when an unauthorized employee enters a hazardous zone, or track personnel in real-time through hazardous areas so that, in the event of an emergency, you can identify employees and know their exact location within a space.

Get the Facts

RFID is exciting technology with boundless potential for maintaining safe, efficient, and productive environments. It’s no wonder that science fiction has dreamed up so many colorful possibilities. However, as is often the case, much of the fear-inducing speculation is not founded on science and is simply unrealistic.

At Strategic, we prefer to instead dream up realistic, useful applications for RFID, and then apply them in solutions that help our customers. If you have general questions about RFID or whether RFID personnel tracking could be applied to your need, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us.