Minutes after an armed bank robbery in suburban Chicago last month, the three suspects were caught at one of their homes. How did the police track them down so quickly?

It’s a relatively new feature in bank security and it could take asset tracking to a whole new level: credit card size GPS devices hidden in stolen cash, which in this case, led police quickly to the suspects. According to a Chicago Tribune report, it is the first time the technology, similar to what is used in cell phones and other devices, had been deployed to solve a bank robbery in the Chicago area.

Here’s how it works: a magnetic switch between the GPS modem and antenna is activated when the device is removed from the bank. A notification is sent to authorities, letting them know that the tracking device was activated. Alerts are sent through email, instant messaging and SMS. A radio frequency beacon then helps to determine the location of the device.

More Focused Spending

Beyond cash in a bank, use of asset tracking solutions has potential to grow this year, says an ABI Research report on the subject. The “Annual RFID End User Survey Top Line Results” report says that nearly half (49 percent) of respondents currently using, deploying, evaluating, or piloting RFID expect their budgets to increase this year.

As in past years, the majority of respondents rated “business process improvement” as the number one driver for their adoption of RFID. The second-most important driver was the need to reduce non-labor costs.

ROI timeframe is also a critical consideration for most companies considering RFID deployment, and comparing the ROI assumptions reported in 2009 with those from 2008, the survey found that more companies – 48 percent as opposed to 37 percent in 2008 – expect their investment to be recouped within 12 months.

In addition, says ABI, while in some areas RFID still faces challenges, in others, it is thriving. ABI identified three of the most promising hot-spots as the retail apparel segment, asset management, and active RFID (in a number of verticals).

Specifically, adoption of item-level RFID in the fashion apparel market is graduating from pilot testing to full-scale deployment. While installations at Marks and Spencer in the United Kingdom, American Apparel in the U.S., and Charles Vögele in Switzerland remain the largest contributors to market growth, other companies are now in various stages of implementation.

Active RFID-based solutions, including real-time location systems (RTLS), is expected to experience solid growth in a number of areas, such as healthcare, manufacturing, aerospace and defense, transportation, and commercial services, in support of asset tagging, people tracking and more.
Beyond GPS, other asset management solutions can be as rudimentary as a basic Excel spreadsheet or as expensive as a sophisticated enterprise-wide software solution that in some cases can cost hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars on the high end. The best solution should be one that offers:

1. Efficiency – Maximizes the life of each asset by extending its uses and life.
2. Scalability – Flexible enough to meet the current business needs but powerful enough to easily grow over time.
3. Accountability – Accounting for the location and availability of each piece of equipment is another important step in the management of your equipment.
4. Biggest bang for your buck – If you can get all the above at a price that is manageable, then the ROI should be very favorable. According to inventory management firm Xceliware, this makes the decision to invest in an enterprise level solution much easier to make.

Layered Security System Tracks Assets

When the work day is over, most employees want to pack up their things and go home. Instead, employees working at distribution centers for Best Buy Canada faced a 20 minute wait in line for loss prevention screening before they could leave each day. They gave up keys and personal cell phones, walked through a metal detector and were then subjected to physical pat-downs.

Metal detectors do not detect non-ferrous objects (i.e., CDs, DVDs, plastics and some small electronics) and random pat-downs can be ineffective. Some employees were missing scheduled transportation or other appointments because of the lengthy shift change. Employee morale suffered and the current screening/security processes were proving to be unsuccessful.

Effective employee screening is important. According to the 2008 National Retail Security Survey Final Report, 42.7 percent of inventory shrinkage stems from employee theft. A retailer operating multiple distribution centers worldwide and handling thousands of high-value electronic and high-technology items daily has a lot to lose, even if its percent of shrinkage is relatively low.

Brendan Alexander, director of loss prevention, tells Security that the retailer was using a layered physical security program based on crime prevention through environmental design principles along with conventional metal detectors, hand-wand units and camera systems. Weighing his options, he says “We could increase the number of metal detectors and guards in our facilities to speed up the exiting of our employees. But this would have increased our operating expenses.”

Instead, he implemented a concealed object detection and people screening system from Brijot that was placed so that employees exiting the distribution center passed through a metal detector and were then imaged by the system as they left the building. The implementation also included security protocol whereby employees are imaged in real-time at two distances, roughly four feet and nine feet from the system. This allowed operators to not only view the whole body and detect objects three inches by five inches or larger, but to also bring the subjects closer to the system and view smaller objects that could be hidden about the body.

Alexander says that the new system has helped to keep shrinkage low, and increase security without adding new staff or affecting employee morale. “Today, the same employees who used to wait 20 minutes at each shift now only wait about 7 minutes. We’re also no longer compromising anyone’s dignity or privacy.”

The Shimane Asahi Rehabilitation Program Center in Japan uses a Wi-Fi RFID solution to improve prison management by streamlining the way it tracks prisoner, officer and staff movement throughout the facility.

Tracking Prisoners

Inmates are undoubtedly the most important asset that a prison system has. Shimane Asahi Rehabilitation Program Center is the newest and largest prison developed by Japan’s Private Finance Initiative and is managed under the Japanese government’s Correction Bureau, Ministry of Justice. The facility encompasses 325,000 square meters, with almost 100,000 square meters of floor space.

The facility was looking for a new way to track the prisoners. Yuichiro Morita, Correction Bureau of Ministry of Justice, Japan, says that “In order to maintain security in a correctional facility, prisons rely heavily on guard labor for activities such as counting the inmates. Regular counting occurs every morning and evening, but if one (or more) inmates are unaccounted for, the prison needs to conduct emergency counts. These counts are time consuming and tedious. We needed a system to automatically detect who is missing.”

The correctional facility uses a Wi-Fi RFID solution from AeroScout to improve prison management by streamlining the way it tracks prisoner, officer and staff movement throughout the facility. The system has been in operation since October 2008 and will ultimately include 3,000 Wi-Fi tags when at full capacity this year.

Now, prison officers can monitor the location of each inmate and compare it with their planned schedule of movements and activities for the day. Automatic alerts are sent if any discrepancies occur between scheduled and actual locations. For example, officers can easily identify if prisoners are in the wrong area of the prison or are moving too close to a forbidden zone.

In addition, the solution is for indoor and outdoor tracking, which allows officers to monitor inmate movement across the entire grounds within one system. As such, prisoners are able to move from one place to another without escort by prison guards, cultivating a better culture among inmates. This not only reduces the time officers spend tracking individual prisoners, but also lessens the feeling of animosity inmates may feel.

Morita also notes that the new system has reduced staff-to-inmate ratio to half of what conventional prisons’ ratios are, and that this has had a large impact on labor and operational efficiency. There are other soft benefits as well, he says, such as improved relations between prisoners and inmates and less stressful environments and activities.