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ORNL scores hit with National Geospatial Intelligence Agency

An electronic accountability system developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory will result in savings of more than $2 million per year at one federal facility alone and will ensure 100 percent accountability of employees.

A pilot test of the system, which uses radio frequency technology to tag and identify people and equipment, was so successful at the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency's Washington Navy Yard that ORNL was asked to install a system at the agency's facility in St. Louis. The performance achieved at the 600,000-square-foot six-floor facility represents a huge accomplishment.

"Never before had a government agency allowed the use of active radio frequency identification technology within a classified facility of this type," said Gary Steimer, a program manager in ORNL's National Security Directorate.

To gain approval to design and install such a system within a secure facility, the ORNL team had to conduct extensive research and testing to ensure that no classified information would be compromised by the radio transmissions from the RFID equipment. After several months of testing, ORNL researchers recommended an engineering solution for a pilot program that was ultimately approved by the government.

Steimer noted that the system, dubbed the RFID Accountability System, or RAS, provides a solution to an enormous and expensive problem because of the tens of thousands of items to be inventoried.

"The equipment accountability system alone will save the government both manpower and money," Steimer said. "The workforce used to conduct inventories and track equipment will be reduced by about 80 percent."

Perhaps even more importantly, the ORNL system safeguards people.

"In any federal or state building that houses hundreds or thousands of employees, knowing where people are is a tremendous concern," Steimer said. "In the event of a drill or actual emergency, our system lets responders know quickly who is still in the building."

The system, developed by Greg Hanson and John Jones of the lab's Engineering Science and Technology Division and Angela Sexton of the Computational Sciences and Engineering Division, provides the capability to easily enter all assets into a custom-designed database. Once this is done, employees can perform quick and accurate inventories simply by rolling a mobile cart into each office. The equipment tags are activated, allowing for an accurate hands-off inventory that can be viewed instantly.

In the November test at the Washington Navy Yard, for the first time the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency was able to achieve 100 percent accountability of RFID-tagged personnel, whether the employees were still in the building or in one of the several assembly areas.

"By using the ORNL-developed RFID accountability system first responders can now be directed to the exact floor and zone where people are trapped, thus expediting recovery operations and saving lives," Hanson said.

Specifically, the software and hardware systems developed by ORNL provide information about exact locations of people in the building, people who left the building and the time they left and the exits they used.

Funding for this project was provided by the Department of Defense's National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, whose mission is to provide timely, relevant and accurate geospatial intelligence in support of national security. UT-Battelle manages Oak Ridge National Laboratory for the Department of Energy.

Ron Walli | EurekAlert!
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