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Thursday, February 10

Congress Considers Evacuation Tracking

Problem-Reaction-Soultion at work. Cite an emergency as one possible way to introduce RFID chips.

Feb. 7, 2005—The United States House of Representatives is seeking technology to track people in the event of an emergency. Vendors have until Feb. 15 to submit information about a system that could report on the location of House members, staff and visitors during an evacuation from House-operated facilities. Vendors of radio frequency identification products are among the companies responding to the House's request.

"There are numerous ways to address tracking," says Erik Michielsen, the director of RFID and ubiquitous networks at ABI Research, a consulting firm based in Oyster Bay, N.Y. Few of these methods, however, fulfill the House's high-tech requirements, such as 3-D graphical displays.

"An RFID-hybrid solution would be optimal," Michielsen says. Such a hybrid could combine biometric identifiers with RFID. "We're going to be seeing more of the RFID-biometrics hybrids in the next year," Michielsen predicts, because the U.S. government has shown an interest in that kind of solution.

In its official request for information, posted online on Dec. 2 at FedBizOpps.gov, a government procurement Web site, the House's Office of the Chief Administrator reports that it is seeking "reliable, robust, and rapid accumulation of real-time operationally accessible data" concerning the location and evacuation status of House members, staff and visitors immediately after an emergency event and for a 24-hour period afterward. That includes people who have gathered in assembly areas, those who are in the building and need to report their status, and those who have traveled to a different location. This system would be used only during emergencies and activated during an evacuation of the U.S. Capitol, the House's four main offices (the Cannon, Longworth, Rayburn and Ford buildings), and other smaller House-operated buildings clustered in an area of 0.8 square miles.

Approximately 13,500 legislators and staff work within these facilities. At present, the House lacks a system for keeping track of which people are in the buildings. Although staff members currently have ID badges that incorporate an HID-type proximity RFID transponder, the House has deployed proximity card readers for access only at select places within the House complex, but not at building entrances and exits.

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