If you look at a traditional linear (one dimensional) bar code, for instance a UPC code that you might see at the supermarket, it consists of a set of lines that are the same from top to bottom. All the information is carried in the pattern of lines that changes from left to right.
Barcodes can be a valuable part of an emergency management plan. The UPC barcode alone provides no other information other than a look-up field and associated data. Stand-alone barcodes have started to make a greater showing in government issued documents, such as driver’s licenses. The higher level PDF417 barcode allows for a vast amount of information to be formatted into the barcode. Scanned data from the PDF417 barcode can be used for a variety of purposes for educational and emergency management.

The question for schools and emergency planners is how a stand-alone barcode can be used to effectively manage the accurate and effective tracking of students and staff in an emergency. The Hauppauge School District in New York, as part of a routine evacuation drill in April 2004, issued barcode labels for every child in an elementary building of more than 800 students.

Evac drill uses

The Long Island school district preprinted PDF 417-format barcodes for the evacuation drill for every student in the building. Data for the barcodes were downloaded from the student administration database. Embedded in the code was all the pedigree information that would be needed by the evacuation center. Each student was scanned upon entry to the evacuation center as part of the drill. Scanned live data provided an accurate listing of students brought to the center. While in a true evacuation, situation time would most likely preclude pre-issuance of barcode labels prior to the start of an evacuation, a simple class sheet with student pictures and a barcode beneath it would serve as a class roster and check in/out tally sheet. The class list model is usable both by the teacher or staff member who knows the student by name or by the first responder on the scene who does not know the student. In either case, the barcode allows better tracking of the students.

Hauppauge Schools worked with Symbol Technologies of Holtsville, N.Y., and integrator Computers by Design to develop barcode-based solutions to assist in the management of student data in routine and emergency situations.

Attach to Backpack

Solutions include a Back Pack ID card, which contains the information needed to assist in the rapid identification of a student within a PDF417 barcode suspended from a backpack zipper. The data on the ID card is not readable from the naked eye and requires a specific scanner to decode it.

Field trips add another challenge to the supervision of students. Frequently, parents will offer to assist in this effort, but parent chaperones may or may not previously know the students on the trip. Taking the lead from the New York State Police, who have a model field trip attendance and ID program for classroom teachers, Computers by Design was able to develop a more comprehensive field trip management program. Simple color codes on student name labels guide the parent chaperones to the students whom they are to supervise. Once again, the use of the PDF417 barcode has been implemented into the field trip management; all needed data is encoded into the name tag label.

Sidebar: Moving from UPC to PDF417

It’s really a matter of storing and retrieving more information from two-dimensional barcodes. Depending on the application, the 2-D barcode can hold a diversity of data. Swapping out a typical barcode for a PDF417 barcode can extend the applications on student ID cards or identification on equipment or people on field trips.