Even before the kamikaze pilots of Sept. 11 shattered everyone?s illusions of security, officials at Fort McPherson, near Atlanta, knew they needed a better means of protecting the military installation.
Each day more than 5,000 vehicles pass through the main gate of this U.S. Army base just south of the city. Under the watchful eye of military police, a seemingly endless stream of civilian employees, military personnel, contractors, retirees and other visitors come and go. Previously, the process of checking them in and out was simple and time honored. It involved looking at their ID, seeing the Department of Defense sticker on the windshield, asking a few questions and waving them on. It was a costly, labor-intensive process. It was also slow, inefficient?and inadequate.
Three years ago, military officials decided they needed to supplement the human element at their gates with access control technology that would not impede the flow of traffic into the installation.
?We wanted to improve our security procedures and hopefully look at reducing the manpower required to operate a standard access control point for the installation,? explains Hugh Wiley, deputy director of public safety for Fort McPherson.
The answer to their needs was inspired by the technology used by highway tollbooths. There, drivers have the option of purchasing tags that attach to their windshields, allowing them to speed through the gates without stopping to drop in money. Readers at the tollbooths, using Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) systems, simply recognize the tag and then deduct the appropriate amount from a driver?s account. Why couldn?t that same technology be used to facilitate passage into the fort?
If such a system could be made to work at Fort McPherson, home to the U.S. Army Forces Command (FORSCOM), the Third U.S. Army/Forces Central Command and the U.S. Army Reserve Command, it could also serve as a template for other, larger installations throughout the country.
After considering available systems, Fort McPherson security decided to purchase the Intellitag RFID technology produced by Everett, Wash.-based Intermec Technologies Corp., coupled with Houston, Texas-based Micromation?s Intelligent Gate Controllers and access control software. Like highway tollbooths, this system offered the prospect of providing security personnel with extensive information about the vehicle and driver before it ever rolled to a stop in front of the MP.
To get the project underway, Fort McPherson?s Public Safety Directorate began registering an initial 5,000 vehicles and drivers ? mostly military personnel and civilian base workers ? as part of the test phase for the program.
?A registration process was developed that contained records associated with each RF (radio frequency) tag,? Wiley says. That meant entering basic information about each person, such as the basic facts found on a driver?s license, and vehicle type, make and color, as well as level of access granted.
The Intellitag, a small decal with a tiny radio frequency antenna and a computer chip, mounted in the upper portion of the driver?s side windshield, works with the Intellitag Fixed Reader mounted in the entrance lanes at the main gate. When activated by the Micromation gate controllers, the reader broadcasts a radio frequency when it detects a vehicle entering its 15-ft. range.
This frequency hits the tag and reads a unique 16-character code that is associated with records stored in the system?s secure, private database. With the entire windshield acting as an antenna, the signal is reflected back to the reader for analysis by Micromation?s guard control monitor software. The system then either grants or denies access based on the information.
Additional reader systems were also installed at the fort?s other entrance gate and at the high security FORSCOM main entrance driveway.
When the initial installation was completed last year, the system provided sentries with only basic information. The MP knew the car was registered and authorized to enter when a traffic signal-like device mounted in the lanes flashed either red or green and sounded an audible signal.
Hitting Close to Home
?Then Sept. 11 came along while we were already working on the system,? says Bill Snyder, Intermec?s major account executive for Government Business Solutions. ?The original concept was just a red light/green light that let vehicles come in, based on criteria. After Sept. 11, base security wanted a lot more information.?
Security officials added a photo of each driver that comes up on a computer screen inside the guard house. Plans also call for expanding the system to give MPs additional information about each driver.
?If they (public safety) receive a BOLO (Be On The Lookout) alert for a car, we could put that information into the system and the MP would have it instantly available to him,? says Wiley. ?If we wanted to stop a specific vehicle, we could put an alert against that tag. When the car comes in, the alert would be there to tell the MP to relay information to that specific person.?
The system will not only provide greater assistance to law enforcement in apprehending suspects, but it could also help others. For example, if a contractor comes through who is needed in a different area of the garrison than where he normally works, the information could be relayed to him. In some large military installations that cover several hundred acres, those kinds of directions can save considerable time.
As they enter the second phase, Wiley and his department can also add a photo of each vehicle as an additional access control feature. Upgrading transmission lines from T-1 to fiber optic will allow information to become available almost instantly.
While the computer monitor is currently housed in a guard house, plans call for building a small kiosk between traffic lanes so that the MP stopping traffic can have instant access to information.
?That has been quite the search (for the right equipment),? Wiley says. ?We?re trying to find a computer and kiosk or some system rugged enough to withstand the elements, rugged enough to withstand constant usage by security personnel. In addition, the guard must be able to see the information on the screen. In most kiosks, if you have bright sun or ambient light, it?s reflected.?
Along with providing a more efficient identification system, the RFID can also give security a log of when personnel enter and leave the base. Security officials can also set access levels such as times and dates of access.
These upgrades will come during a planned second phase of installation after all personnel are made part of the database and new budget allocations are released. Currently, the system only keeps track of registered users entering Fort McPherson. Most vehicles have not yet been added to the system, requiring MPs to stop and check each vehicle personally as it enters the base.
?It tracks transactions such as when someone passes in and out of the gate,? explains Wiley. ?It will also show a transaction even if the car doesn?t have a tag. While that doesn?t assist in access control, it does give us an idea of traffic patterns and vehicle counts.?
At that time, entering and leaving Fort McPherson is likely to become much more efficient. Currently, the process of checking each vehicle and its occupant at the gate can take anywhere from 10 to 45 seconds.
?When this system gets fully fielded and we have the computer at the lane, the MP will know what the vehicle is supposed to look like and who is supposed to be in it before the car ever stops,? he believes. ?He can already start making some decision about whether to grant access or not.?
Standard For Access
The success of the Fort McPherson project will determine whether this type of system is adopted by the dozen or so other FORSCOM installations around the country.
?We put it in, run it, build a model system and then the command can look at it ? the pros and cons ? and what it does and doesn?t do,? Wiley says. ?Then they can make a decision about whether to field the system or do something else.?