People tracking in emergencies. A system lets incident commanders immediately gather the information needed to accurately pinpoint people and situations.

Shannon Torrez is a troubled person. The Missouri resident just weeks ago kidnapped an 11-day-old baby, later found safe. At about the same time, a New York hospital reported an alleged baby snatcher stalking the facility’s maternity ward.

Infant abductions, especially from healthcare facilities, are rare but tragic incidents that can destroy families and harm businesses that protect the little ones and their relatives. It is also one of the first areas in which “people tracking” solutions have played a significant role as systems including sensors and detectors, “read” tags and bracelets to alert to a moving infant. Healthcare security executives enlarged the business model to also include wandering patients and assisted-living residents who suffer from dementia, Alzheimer’s or similar conditions and are at risk of wandering off.

Tracking deliveries after hours. An outsourced monitoring system combines security video, door access and two-way audio to protect facilities and assets but allow after hours deliveries at retail and other operations.


Intelligent security video adds a new twist to people tracking in healthcare environments.

“Traditionally, intelligent video technology has been used in security applications,” Ray Rudy of Arteco told Security Magazine. “However, as these systems become more advanced, there are new uses that are helping people in ways far beyond security. Within healthcare and senior citizen settings, intelligent video is being used to detect events and alert personnel to safety issues. With its network capabilities and analytics, intelligent video is a solution to a variety of serious issues, including patient and resident falls, and injuries that result from falls.”

Security cameras are strategically mounted in rooms for wide coverage and digital areas of interest created around the patient beds using analytics software. If a patient gets out of bed or should slip, fall or wander away, the system detects this event as abnormal behavior and immediately alerts the personal hand-held communication device of on-duty staff.

“We provide these administrators with cost-effective measures to improve performance and avert safety and security problems,” said Rudy.

Beyond healthcare, solutions have exploded as enterprises use radio frequency identification, global positioning, cellular radio, intelligent security video, visitor badging, access controls, recognition software and even cutting edge wayfinding navigational tools to track employees, visitors and people in vehicles.

The beginning of people tracking in hospital settings continues, of course. There are simple door-activated warning sensors as well as sophisticated, computer-based networks sometimes tied into nurse call systems to quickly alert staff of a wandering patient or potential infant abduction. Elements can include: door-ajar alerts, door lock activators, staff alert graphic display panel, elevator deactivation, voice annunciators, lightweight ankle or wrist detectors, loitering notification and escort bypass functions.

Some hospital systems can operate on two different digitally encoded frequencies, to virtually eliminate the problem of false alarms that many systems cause with stray radio signals.

Patient tracking to avoid falls. At assisted living facilities, if a patient gets out of bed or should slip, fall or wander away, a tracking system detects this event as abnormal behavior and immediately alerts staff.


Another approach, ultrasound indoor positioning systems automatically track precisely by room the real-time location of people in complex indoor environments. Using wireless detectors and “tags” linked to a digital file containing vital statistics and information about the person being monitored, such tags transmit a unique identification signal using ultrasound waves to detectors that use digital signal processing algorithms, which transmit signals via an existing LAN to a central computer that stores the information about the tag’s room-location and the time of receipt of the signal.

Retail operations also find business reasons for people tracking tech. For example, at ASIS International in late September, loss prevention directors viewed a new approach from ADT Security Services called Unattended Delivery, a video-based service that provides a secure way for retailers to track delivery people and goods after hours, reducing store delivery costs.

It consists of an integrated mix of technologies including access control, video surveillance, remote monitoring, intrusion detection and two-way voice to monitor after-hour deliveries. Delivery drivers are issued access control badges, which grant limited access to a retail establishment after hours. The access control system triggers a deliver notification to a monitoring center, where a person can remotely monitor and record activities via video surveillance cameras installed in the store. Two-way voice capabilities allow the monitoring team to communicate with the delivery driver, if needed.

Tracking vehicles and people. Inexpensive cameras on security officer cars can patrol a parking lot and track and identify vehicles by the car’s license plate.
Look for even more people tracking applications coming out of video analytics. According to GE Security’s Robert Siegel, “At our GE Global Research Center, developers are creating such analytics in products such as digital pan-tilt-zoom cameras and digital video recorders. These technologies will let operators track a specific human, in either a live or recorded setting. The system teaches itself all the attributes necessary to distinguish a selected individual, even in the presence of other people. The system will watch only that person and even hand-off the target from one camera to another, passing the individual from camera-to-camera as a person leaves one field of view for another.”

Recognition systems also play a role in tracking people and identifying vehicles. An example is mobile license plate recognition system helping the University of Southern California Transportation – Parking Enforcement expedite parking enforcement on campus. CarCatcher licensed by InPlay includes a recognition software engine that can be applied for a wide range of license plate recognition applications. For the University of Southern California, the mobile system enables parking enforcement officials to monitor an entire campus in a very short amount of time. CarCatcher scans license plates, matching them to a list of scofflaws provided by the university.

Tracking gets smarter. Under development are intelligent security video systems that can track an individual even among a crowd of people.


“In the first 20 minutes of our initial test run of the system, we caught three offenders with over $1,700 in unpaid citation fees,” said Kenneth Marshall, assistant manager transportation services – administration, University of Southern California Transportation – Parking Enforcement. “Return on investment from these systems is incredible given the increased efficiency in collections with less manpower. In addition, universities often see a decrease in parking violations once students become aware that the campus is patrolled by the automatic license plate reading system.”

The system uses a laptop computer in conjunction with an off-the-shelf camera system. Cameras mount temporarily or permanently to any vehicle, and can be quickly exchanged between vehicles. Once installed, the driver can cruise the parking lots at any speed. The software automatically sounds an alarm when a plate matches categorized “hot lists.” Multiple lists can be used, and the system offers the flexibility to match alarms to the urgency of individual lists.

Long-range radio frequency, integrated into traditional electronic access control systems, also provides people tracking capability.

According to Jerry Cordasco of Compass Technologies, to provide for building emergencies like fire, terror and hostage situations, businesses, schools and others are developing “mustering” practices. “Unfortunately mustering is not ideal practice that can assure first responders that a building is completely free of occupants,” he said.

Employing standard access-control cards and readers means everyone evacuating a building would theoretically present their badges while running out the door. People just don’t do that in an emergency. In most cases evacuees won’t bother to go to an outside-the-building mustering station, either. So first responders will still have no idea how many people remain in the building.

With RFID, badges are active tags, continuously being read by the RF readers. Technology exists to read multiple tags simultaneously at high speed. Even with a throng of people pushing out the door, the RF reader can pickup real-time information from all tags with a high degree of accuracy: near-100 percent with long-range readers.

SideBar: Tracking People to Avoid Falls

The Joint Commission of Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations names the reduction of risk of falls, and implementation of a fall reduction program, among their 2007 Assistant Living National Patient Safety Goals. The financial impact of fall injuries is staggering. In 2000, the Centers for Disease Control reports that direct medical costs for all fatal and non-fatal falls totaled $19.4 billion. This is expected to rise to $32.4 billion by 2020.