The four branches of the military, combined, have an estimated 4.5 million firearms, according to the nonprofit independent Small Arms Survey. Of that number, approximately 1,900 vanished from military inventories between 2010 and 2019. That figure compiled in a recent Associated Press study of military inventory records and internal memos. It’s a small percentage of the total number, but as Albany County, NY, district attorney David Soares states, “One gun creates a ton of devastation,” when a missing military weapon turns up on the streets.
Some of the missing weapons have been linked to violent crimes across the U.S., from California to New York, Kentucky to the Carolinas. It’s an uncomfortable irony that missing military firearms ever become a problem for local law enforcement. And it doesn’t have to be this way. There are technology solutions: secure weapons lockers, and RFID.
Smart weapons lockers help prevent surreptitious thefts by outsiders. The AP report detailed how an unlocked door allowed intruders to steal six automatic weapons from a National Guard armory. In another case, surveillance cameras failed to record firearms thieves at a Marine base. Weapons lockers’ biometric and electronic locks limit access to the stored firearms. Only authorized personnel have access, and smart technology automatically records who accessed what, and when.
The secure chain of custody begins with weapons lockers, but it doesn’t stop there. RFID technology expands the chain of custody from the initial delivery of a firearm, into the military weapons inventory, and out into the field.
RFID excels as an asset management tool. For example, an RFID-managed armory can operate like this:
The manufacturer tags each weapon per the military branch’s data specifications.
When a shipment of RFID-tagged guns arrives at the armory, a single scan with an RFID reader captures the identifying data of every item in the entire shipment. The shipment is checked in a matter of seconds, with no manual errors.
Each gun is placed in a smart locker; its assigned locker number is recorded on the RFID inventory.
Using a hand-held RFID reader, a single scan of the weapons locker room reads every weapon in the room and updates the inventory each day.
When a gun is checked out or returned, the armory records the soldier’s RFID card and the gun’s RFID tag; the soldier’s ID and the weapon’s ID are automatically linked – no manual errors.
The RFID asset management system can be configured to generate alerts if inventories are not completed, or if weapons are not returned as expected, need routine maintenance, or are due for replacement.
Weapons lockers and RFID asset management remove the human-error factor from armory management. They improve security, accountability, and efficiency. Most important, they reduce the chances that military firearms will find their way the hands of bad actors.
Speed is the name of the game when it comes to inventory and asset management, and RFID delivers the data faster than any other technology.
RFID is everywhere. Those plastic tags you’ve seen in retail stores; the small square metallic stickers on packaged goods; even your pet’s ID chip – those are all RFID tags. They store information about the item they’re attached to, and they deliver that information to an RFID reader’s screen.
Don’t bar codes manage information the same way? Not exactly. The key difference is in the way an RFID tag communicates with the reader. Bar code readers must “see” each bar code to collect the data. There has to be a clear sight line between the bar code and the reader. RFID readers, in contrast, don’t “see” the tag. They “hear” it, via radio waves sent by the tag. RF = radio frequency, ID = identification.
RFID readers can “hear” the signals from all the RFID tags in an area, all at the same time. Bar code readers, because they rely on “seeing,” can record only one bar code at a time. This video shows a bar code reader and an RFID reader in a head-to-head race.
Spoiler alert: The bar code reader is not going to be invited to the Kentucky Derby.
RFID technology has an application for every business sector.
Every business has a need for speed, because time is money. The less time it takes to collect information about assets, the more time you have to spend on your organization’s primary mission. RFID streamlines your workflow, improves inventory accountability, and monitors assets. Turbocharge your business with RFID.
The benefits of digital asset management (DAM), including RFID, are a hot topic these days. RFID applications are available for any sort of business. But owners and managers of organizations in the service sectors, from finance and law to healthcare and education, may think RFID is just an inventory tool for the retail and logistics sectors.
If you think your enterprise couldn’t benefit from RFID, think again.
Asset Tracking – Ever notice how there are never enough chairs in the conference room? Furniture, laptops, and other work tools have a way of wandering from their assigned locations. RFID tags keep tabs on the location of these peripatetic items, as well as providing information on their age and condition. Office and facility managers can easily identify aging furnishings that need repairs or replacement, and pinpoint the location of every physical asset. Plus when inventory time comes, the RFID system can deliver a document listing the assigned value of each item currently in the facility, making financial reporting quicker and simpler. What is does it cost your business to update capital inventory records by hand?
Personnel Tracking – In busy public settings like hospitals or schools, knowing the location of key personnel can save time, or even save a life. RFID-enabled personnel badges keep track of people’s movements and current whereabouts so no time is wasted when someone is urgently needed. RFID personnel badges work with an institution’s security system to manage access to restricted areas and maintain safety. And in emergency situations, an RFID system can tell first responders who is inside and where they are. What is the dollar value of RFID-managed security and safety?
Document Tracking – We always advocate converting paper documents to digital documents via a well-planned imaging program; imaged documents are secure, shareable with teams, and save the real estate costs of large file rooms. But in many offices there are documents that need to be retained as paper even if they have been imaged. Paper files are easy to lose or misplace (one of the advantages of imaging), but with the addition of small, inconspicuous RFID tags, the location of a file can be tracked throughout an office. Doorway RFID readers monitor the movement of files from one room to another, and files can be located with a quick look at the tracking record. PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates an average of 25 extra hours to recreate a lost document; how much would that cost your business?
Keep in mind that RFID, unlike bar codes, doesn’t require direct sight lines to record and track business assets carrying RFID tags. Once items or personnel are assigned their unique RFID tag, doorway readers track their movements automatically as they pass from one room to another. And inventory updates can be as simple as walking into a room and pressing a button on an RFID reader. You’ll instantly collect data on all the capital assets the room contains; no need to look through cabinets and underneath furniture to read bar code IDs. RFID is a timesaver, and like its other benefits, that translates into money.
RFID systems come in many shapes and sizes, and can be scaled up or down to suit your organization’s needs. When you start adding up the costs of lost documents, lost equipment, and lost time, it’s clear that you shouldn’t miss out on the benefits of RFID.
Police work is primarily focused outside the police station, in the community, and that’s as it should be. There’s a satisfaction, even a glamor, to being out on the streets keeping the community safe and secure. This outward focus sometimes means that the station itself – the place of dull paperwork and desk jobs – suffers from a lack of public attention and administrative funding. Support facilities like evidence storage and property rooms may lag behind other state-of-the-art policing technology, and that can mean the efforts of front-line police work may be rendered fruitless when a case goes to trial with missing or inadmissible evidence.
Public safety expert Kathy Marks, writing in Law and Order Magazine, interviewed current and former police officers regarding the need for better evidence storage and property room technology. A good inventory system was their Number One recommendation, a system that could identify and track every item connected to a case. Missing evidence or a broken chain of custody will derail an otherwise strong criminal case.
Just as important, the interviewees reported, was a system that could schedule the return, destruction, or retention of each item. Even when a police department has a carefully maintained intake inventory system, a backlog of outdated, unneeded evidence and property take up valuable – and scarce – storage space. Overcrowded storage inevitably leads to the damage or loss of some items, increasing the challenge of making a case.
The outward-facing side of police work has for some time employed technology to make the job safer and more efficient, with everything from smart duty lockers to mobile laptop and tablet charging stations. Now the administrative side is getting its own tech applications, particularly for managing the inventories of the evidence and property rooms. Commonly used in warehousing and logistics, bar coding and RFID technologies are proving especially useful in public safety settings. Easy-to-generate bar codes identify individual items, and RFID tags provide locational tracking information as well as identification. Coupled with space-saving high-density mobile shelving for property, and secure transfer and storage lockers for evidence, these automated inventory systems maintain a clear chain of custody and keep the storage footprint manageable.
Written policies and procedures are also an important part of a well-run evidence and property rooms. Marks’ interview subjects emphasized that managing property and evidence isn’t for everyone. People with a warehouse inventory background or military quartermaster experience tend to excel in the management of police evidence and property rooms.
Good management of property and evidence storage plays a vital role in law and order. With the right combination of personnel and technology, this undervalued sector of public safety can be a big contributor to the criminal justice system.
Everyone knows what a bar code is – we can’t forget the commercial showing bank customers with bar codes on their foreheads – but the workflow and inventory management benefits of RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology aren’t as well known. Like bar codes, RFID tags contain information about the item they’re attached to. No doubt you have seen those large plastic tags clipped on apparel in retail stores, and seen them removed by cashiers at the time of purchase – those are RFID tags, and they help the store manage inventory. But RFID tags also come in much smaller versions, like the one pictured here, and they can be affixed to everything from shipping boxes to artworks, tools, furniture, weapons, and even office file folders or individual documents. They’re inconspicuous, easy to apply, and last for 50 years.
The technological difference between RFID and bar codes is this: Like books or newspapers, bar codes are printed in ink, and must be visually read by an electronic scanner. RFID tags, by contrast, are essentially tiny radio transmitters, bouncing a signal back to an RFID reader just the way your favorite radio station relays a signal to your car radio. The RFID signal contains unique identifying information about the item the tag is attached to.
On the surface, RFID may not seem to offer any advantages over bar codes. Nevertheless, Walmart, Macy’s, and other retailers turned to RFID for a very good reason: Labor costs. Their inventory management systems were based on bar codes, and the bar code scanner had to “see” the bar code. Because it couldn’t see around corners or through walls, every item in a stockroom or warehouse had to be manually turned toward the reader – a time-consuming labor-intensive process. And labor is expensive.
The radio signals of an RFID tag, however, can be “grabbed” by an RFID reader without the reader ever having to see the tag. As long as the reader is in proximity to the tag (same room or same building), it receives the information from the RFID tag via radio waves, without any need to handle the inventory. In effect, the RFID reader can see around corners, or through a stack of boxes, or into a filing cabinet. The labor of inventory management becomes as simple as walking into a room.
Facility managers know where every desk and chair is located without doing a room-to-room count.
Automobile manufacturers streamline workflows by tracking parts as vehicles move through the assembly line.
Museum curators are certain of which storeroom contains a particular collection, without having to open drawers or rummage through shelves.
Warehouse managers know exactly what a new shipment contains without having to open the boxes.
Paralegals locate critical documents in a law office without having to search through multiple files.
Bar code technology is far from obsolete, however. Bar codes are a proven solution for an array of situations in which labor costs are not such a big part of the inventory management calculus. But for many organizations, RFID offers productivity benefits that boost the bottom line.
As every manager and owner knows, inventory and asset management is vital to any successful enterprise. RFID will streamline your workflow and improve inventory accountability. Consult with an expert in inventory management and storage who can tell you if RFID or bar coding, or both, could be the right solution for your business.
The Oscars and the Emmys may be better known, but the Station Design Awards, honoring outstanding fire station design, have a much more direct effect on communities across America. When fire stations are designed to support first responders’ wellbeing, communities benefit from better firefighting and EMT service. And when stations are designed to encourage interaction with the community, everyone benefits from better fire prevention awareness and involvement.
Fire stations present some unique design challenges, including:
engines’ carbon monoxide exhaust intruding into fire station living areas
common areas that allow for multiple activities without noise or space conflicts
secure storage for bulky “turnout” protective gear, uniforms, and personal items
sleeping areas that promote good sleep habits for high-functioning first responders
Last year’s award winners came from all parts of the U.S., from Washington State to Texas to Ohio to South Carolina. The judges looked particularly at zone designs (separating contaminated “hot” zones from the “cold” zone of living areas); sleeping areas that balanced isolation against privacy needs; and fire station building security. In stations where interactions with the public are common, and even encouraged, any access to administrative and living areas still has to be controlled. Equipment, turnout gear, and firefighters’ personal property must be stored safely in cages and lockers.
Writing in Firehouse.com, Janet Wilmoth reviewed station design trends reported by architects involved in station design. In addition to green design and LEED certification, these design professionals are seeing more indoor recreation spaces – which help reduce stress and build camaraderie – and the addition of community rooms and small walk-in clinics which improve outreach to the neighborhoods served by these fire stations.
This year’s Station Design Awards will be announced in November. Best of luck to all the entrants, along with thanks to first responders everywhere for their service.