RFID technology excels at safety and security applications. First responders around the country use RFID-based personnel and equipment tracking systems. Secure facilities as varied as life-sciences research buildings and movie editing rooms use RFID-controlled locks to manage access. For public safety and military armories, firearms security is a top priority, with RFID badges controlling access to storage rooms and weapons lockers.
Now firearms manufacturers are bringing another RFID application to market. After years of research and testing, several U.S. and European gunmakers have incorporated RFID chips into handguns to reduce unauthorized usage.
One survey found that fewer than 2% of guns used in crimes were purchased from retail sources; some were given to criminals by “straw buyers,” but most were obtained illegally. The new RFID-enabled handguns require the user to unlock the gun with a matching RFID device – a wristband or a fob – before firing the gun. Some manufacturers go so far as to include a fingerprint match as well as an RFID match before the gun will unlock. Users can leave the weapon unlocked as long as they keep the RFID matching device within the chip’s short range.
This innovation presents an opportunity for law enforcement and military facilities to maintain even better control of their weapons inventory. Many of these facilities already have RFID inventory systems in place to issue guns to personnel. These systems do an excellent job of quickly and accurately recording the check-out and check-in of weaponry.
However, hundreds of handguns are stolen each year from police vehicles and from military armories, and a number of them wind up in the wrong hands. With the new RFID chip-matching system, those stolen guns are unusable without the RFID unlocking device.
Of course, the safety system is not fool-proof. It breaks down if a criminal possesses both the gun and the RFID unlocking device. To prevent this, RFID unlocking devices must be stored separately in weapons storage facilities, with controlled access to prevent them from being pilfered along with the matching weapons. Police officers are unlikely to leave RFID wearables or key fobs in their vehicles, but public safety departments must institute policies to ensure this.
RFID is a powerful tool in private sector operations, from manufacturing and supply chain to retail and professional practice management. With this gun-locking innovation, it provides an additional layer of security to police and military operations, and an additional layer of safety to the public.
A 600-bed hospital managed by the Mayo Clinic was among the first to calculate and publish the results of an ROI analysis of RFID in a healthcare setting. The final number was impressive: 327% ROI over the first three years, with break-even at less than a year.
But maybe your organization isn’t in the healthcare business. You manage a professional services company, a manufacturing business, a museum, or a retail store. How do you calculate RFID’s ROI when your operations are quite different from a hospital’s operations?
ROI calculations, at their most fundamental, start with questions.
What items are vital to your operations? Answer very specifically (e.g. “33 laptop computers with 16 gb of storage,” rather than “computers”). These items can be operational elements, or manufactured products, or a combination.
Visibility: How many times per day/week/month does an item go missing? How often are you short on supplies?
Intrinsic value: What does the loss of an item cost – not just the hard cost, but the cost of intangible added value? Artwork or data are examples.
Management costs: What is the cost of periodic inventories or audits to maintain operations?
Ancillary costs: How much income is lost due to down time when an item is missing or lost, or supplies run low? Are there costs associated with regulatory fines for lost items? How do inaccurate inventories in one department impact other departments’ finances?
With these numbers in hand, calculate two cost scenarios. One scenario is for existing conditions. The other includes the potential improvement to visibility provided by RFID. Most RFID users see visibility (loss) improvements of 60% or better.
But to truly calculate ROI, we have to project the potential savings over an extended period, usually 3 to 5 years. The Net Present Value (NPV) formula gives the most realistic ROI projections for RFID. The NPV formula shows whether the benefits outweigh the costs.
If you manage finances for your organization, you’re familiar with NPV. If you work in a less math-intensive department, you might find an NPV calculator useful. Either way, the answer will give you a strong indication of the wisdom of an investment in RFID. We’re quite confident you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the outcome!
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.