By Claire Swedberg
Dec. 6, 2011—The Australian Customs and Border Protection Service
officers monitoring that nation's border operate more than 50 patrol offices across Australia's vast coastline, as well as overseas, and on dozens of vessels, all managed from a single central location, in the city of Canberra. The agency patrols its 16,000 miles of coastline to prevent illicit drug tracking, people smuggling and terrorism, as well as enforce trade regulations and collect tariffs. Customs and Border Protection oversees the use of thousands of items, including weapons, protective gear, specialized equipment and vehicles. From its central office, the agency wanted real-time visibility into all of its weapons and other assets, at all of its facilities.
From that central location, personnel manage equipment spread throughout those sites, as well as on vessels, knowing where weapons, personal protective gear, specialized equipment and vehicles are located, and ensuring that they are maintained or replaced when necessary. Until recently, to accomplish this task, the agency received spreadsheets from each location. The solution was inefficient, however, since every site had its own equipment-recording procedure, and—because each asset's location frequently changes—the reports were often inaccurate, which could lead to delays in the reporting of missing assets or weapons, or delays in the maintenance, repair or replacement of those items.
Australia's Customs and Border Protection Service uses Bluebird Pidion BIP-6000Max handheld readers to check equipment in and out.
system installed this past summer is intended to resolve the problem. The solution was provided by asset-intelligence solutions firm Relegen
, using high-frequency
(HF) RFID technology from HID Global
. Relegen supplied its assetDNA software, along with HID Global tags, says Paul Bennett, Relegen's founder and managing director. The assetDNA software manages and interprets read
data before making that information available to users, either on a customer's own server, or on a hosted server. It can also issue alerts in the event that an unauthorized event occurs, such as the failure to return a piece of equipment or weapon to the armory at which it was expected. What's more, DataTraceDNA technology from DataDot Technology
provided the Customs and Border Protection with additional security in the event that an asset tag
was removed. The DataTraceDNA material bonds to the molecular structure of an object's surface, amounting to a covert forensic tracer that acts as an invisible bar code
. This material is imperceptible to the human eye, and requires a spectrometer to be detected.
A variety of RFID tags were used, including HID's Intag 200 model.
The system uses passive 13.56 MHz RFID tags from HID Global, complying with the ISO 15693 standard, explains Tony Hilder, the Asia-Pacific sales director of HID Global's identification technologies division. Each asset has an RFID tag affixed to it, as well as the DataDot tracer. A variety of HID Global tags were used, including the Logi Tag 161, Intag 200 and Intag 300 models, depending on the particular item being tagged.
At the central office, a fixed RFID reader was utilized for registering new assets. When a tag is attached to an object, a staff member can select the particular item being tagged on the database, and then read that tag, thereby linking the item to that tag's unique ID number. The tags have been attached to approximately 7,000 items to date, including pistols, machine guns, short guns, handcuffs, mace containers and vests, as well as a variety of other gear issued to officers at 22 sites and on numerous vessels. Tagging began in March 2011, and was completed by July 1.
The central office management can log into arms-inventory-management software to view data in real time, and run audits at any moment.
Each of the 22 satellite locations contains an armory in which weapons and other items are stored. At each site, upon reporting for duty, an officer can request specific equipment, such as weapons and protective gear. Every officer carries an HID Global 13.56 MHz RFID card with a unique ID linked to that employee's information in the assetDNA software residing on the border patrol agency's back-end server. Workers at the armory provide the equipment to the individual, and then read the unique ID number on the employee's card, as well as that of each tagged piece of equipment, using a Bluebird Pidion BIP-6000Max handheld reader. The ID numbers of the items are married to that of the staff member using them. Employees issuing the equipment dock the handheld reader at a PC, in order to upload data from that handheld to the assetDNA software, in which the officer's name and the equipment's identification are stored together.
When the staff member returns the items, the same process takes place—the employee's card is read, along with each item's RFID tag. If a piece of equipment is missing, or if it is later visually inspected and found to be damaged, that officer can be held responsible, based on the historical records in the software.
Relegen's Paul Bennet
The central office's management team can log onto the arms-inventory-management software to view data in real time, and can perform audits at any time, as well as create maintenance checklists, since the software can flag items approaching their maintenance date. Those checklists can then be used by the staff to locate those assets for maintenance or repair. In either case, each asset's tag must be scanned at the armory, where a staff member, using the handheld reader, would select a prompt indicating whether the item was being serviced on-site, or being shipped off site for maintenance. Prior to the RFID system's installation, office personnel simply placed paper notes on the equipment that required maintenance, in order to ensure it would not be used. With the assetDNA system, however, an alert is displayed once the tag is read by a handheld interrogator, thereby indicating that the item requires service before it can be issued to an officer.
In some cases, handheld readers are also being used on vessels operated by Customs and Border Protection. A vessel's equipment-issuing officer would utilize the handheld to read staff members' ID cards, along with the IDs of any equipment assigned to those individuals.
Because the system would be used at so many locations, and by so many employees, Bennett says, the software needed to be clear and easy for the officers to use. Moreover, the tags had to be rugged enough to sustain damage from water or impacts. The results have been good, he reports, with audits conducted more frequently, now that the central location has access to real-time data rather than spreadsheets provided by each office. Audits that previously required four hours or more to complete, by several officers at each location, can now be conducted in an hour or less, he adds.
HID Global's Tony Hilder
Since the system went live over the summer, Bennett says, the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service "has better, faster, more reliable data." The agency declined to comment for this story.
With the RFID system in place, the central office can see where its inventory is located, view alerts if an officer fails to return something, and thereby address problems, such as replacing missing equipment or working with the responsible officer to determine why the items were misplaced or lost. The system also allows the office to manage maintenance, and to relocate assets in the event that there is a shortage at one location and excess equipment at another.