Keeping digital tabs on kids in an emergency

The Hauppauge, N.Y., school district uses bar codes during emergency drills. A scanner is used to check a tag on a student's jacket. Data from the bar code is then transferred to a notebook PC to be compared with information in a database.

Bar codes go into service for school security

The Hauppauge School District on Long Island, N.Y., wants to digitize what it calls the go bag'a briefcase of data that an administrator must grab when a school is evacuated. The district is testing data capture devices and bar codes to account for students during emergencies.

On April 23, Bretton Woods Elementary School in Hauppauge held a drill to evacuate 800 children from three buildings and load them onto 16 school buses for transport to a nearby high school.

Bar-coded stickers were placed on the backs of the children's clothing as they left classrooms, Hauppauge Schools security director Edward Spear said. As they stepped off the buses, their bar codes were captured by four people holding portable data scanners and transmitted to a notebook PC for comparison against an attendance database.

In most drills, teachers each carry a roster of the children in their classes. The principal carries a go bag containing information about all the students. School officials take roll call to account for each child after an evacuation'usually a chaotic and time-consuming process.

'In an emergency, children are slow to communicate. They get scared. They get upset,' Spear said. Having a system to account for them cut time and confusion.

'The evacuation went very well,' said Brian Lehmann, senior director of global government solutions for handheld-computer maker Symbol Technologies Inc. of Holtsville, N.Y. Symbol provided its PDT 8100 portable data terminals.

Software developer Computers by Design Inc. of Nesconset, N.Y., supplied the EvacuationID software and notebook PC running Microsoft Windows.

Each sticker had a two-dimensional Portable Data File 417 bar code developed by Symbol, embedding each child's name as shown in an existing database. Computers by Design encrypted the names by a proprietary algorithm. The tags could also hold other information such as photos, home phone numbers or medical conditions, said Frank Cappuccio, president and CEO of Computers by Design.

Most of the paper tags were read without problems, although a few proved difficult to scan because they wrinkled during transit, Spears said. The school district will test tags that can be attached to book bags instead of clothing.

Computers by Design plans to offer the tracking system to schools and companies. The EvacuationID software works with most file formats in which student rosters are kept, such as ASCII flat files or dBase format, Cappuccio said. He estimated that a full system would cost $1 to $2 per child per year.

In addition to emergencies, the bar codes could streamline attendance checking for field trips and other activities, Spear said. The tags could store all relevant information for use by police or medical authorities.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.


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