Army tests RF access system

At Fort McPherson, Ga., an access control system shows the guard authorized riders and can pass on messages to them.

Device supplies data on vehicles, authorized riders and even opens the gate

Officials at Fort McPherson, Ga., are testing radio-frequency tags to control vehicle access.

Gate security procedures have not kept up with technology or with the need to move large numbers of people in and out quickly, said Hugh Wiley, deputy director of public safety.

'It costs a lot of money to put guards out there to check IDs and look at decals,' Wiley said. The fort's physical security needed upgrading before Sept. 11, he said, but since then the need has become imperative'and without any staff increase.

The Micromation Access Control System now being tested uses RF identification technology from Intermec Technologies Corp. of Everett, Wash., and gate control hardware with access control software from Micromation Inc. of Houston.

'We're in metropolitan Atlanta, so we have a lot of folks coming in at the same time,' Wiley said. MACS automatically identifies each authorized vehicle approaching a gate and gives the guard detailed information about authorized riders.

Sensors read a sticker with a chip and antenna on the vehicle's windshield. Unlike RF tags that speed cars through toll booths, the MACS sticker has no battery power.

'The tag is totally passive,' Micromation president Tim Driver said. 'It is powered by the radio that interrogates it.' That limits the useful range to about 20 feet, but it also reduces cost and extends sticker life.

'The tag doesn't have any personal information in it,' Wiley said. 'It's an ID number associated with a file in a database.'

After the tag is read, the file pops up on the guard post monitor. The guard can see whether the vehicle is allowed access at that time and can view photos of authorized passengers and other information. The gate can be opened manually by the guard or automatically by MACS.

Access policy might vary with the area, time of day or security level in effect. MACS can flag vehicles that have been reported stolen or have been barred from the base, or whose drivers have outstanding warrants. It also can pass on to the guard messages for individuals in vehicles.

MACS logs the vehicles that enter the base and, when fully installed, also could record when they leave.

'The system right now is a concept,' Wiley said. A report on the formal testing is due in May.

Exact change lane

Not everyone working at Fort McPherson takes part in the test. The Army bought 5,000 tags for the daily work force arriving at one of two primary entrances. The test entrance, with two lanes, has remote readers and monitors. Guards operate the gate manually in the test.

'At our current threat level, everybody gets checked whether they have a tag or not,' Wiley said. But MACS will give the guards more information than the current decals and ID cards do. That should speed traffic flow.

During lower threat levels when a gate could be operated automatically, 'the system would be at its optimum,' Wiley said. An automatic gate controlling access to a parking lot is being evaluated inside Fort McPherson.

Micromation has been debugging the system and, 'so far, it's been working fairly well,' Wiley said before MACS had been fully implemented.

He said one of the earliest lessons learned was the need to plan in advance for adequate power and communications to the guard post.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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