How Does Facility Architecture Impact Your Real-Time Tracking System?

By: Kevin Christensen, Director of Engineering

Some things really can be one-size-fits-all. Think apparel: hats, scarves, fanny packs. And in our modern world where convenience is king, the appeal of one-size-fits-all extends to our businesses and organizations too: turnkey point-of-sales software, plug-and-play HR management tools, marketing automation apps.

But don’t be fooled into thinking that any real-time locating system (RTLS) works for every facility. 

Complex physical environments, such as corrections, mental health or medical facilities often include thick firewalls, labyrinthine corridors, dense walls and equipment that interferes with signals. These factors can have a significant impact on your RTLS’s level of accuracy. In these situations, one size does not fit all—but here’s what you can do about it. 

Complex Physical Environments Pose Challenges

Complex physical environments are everywhere—from winding hallways and signal-interfering CT machines in healthcare facilities to tunnels and thick concrete walls in corrections facilities. These types of organizations also tend to leverage RTLS to track the movement of people within the facility as well as tracking equipment assets. 

Accurate, speedy tracking in environments like the above can truly be a life-or-death intervention. According to a 2015 study, about 25% of nurses experienced workplace violence—part of an alarming increase in workplace violence in hospitals over the past two decades. 

Say a patient in serious emotional distress attacks a nurse in the middle of the night. The nurse presses her duress button, but the signal is delayed a few seconds—between the hospital room’s thin walls and barrage of signals from electronic equipment, it can’t propagate to the correct gateway that would alert security staff. Luckily, for the sake of our imaginary nurse, help arrives in time. 

But that exact situation is all too common in the real world—and an out-of-the-box RTLS solution that doesn’t correct for signal interference and facility architecture quirks just won’t measure up. 

And whether it’s an old building or new doesn’t matter—if there are multiple wings, floors or additions, it can be difficult to dial in RTLS accuracy with a generic solution. Thick walls can keep signals from propagating, but thin walls are equally problematic because they can bleed RTLS, WiFi and electronic signals, causing signal interference. RTLS solutions need to solve for accuracy and safety—not contribute to the problem. 

Buildings Aren’t Simple. And Neither Are RTLS Solutions

As mentioned, electronics such as X-ray machines and CT scanners can generate a broad range of spectrums that interfere with RTLS signals. But even “standard” building elements like HVAC systems, kitchens, stairwells and moveable shelves can interfere with signal propagation. Large kitchen freezers and walk-in coolers, too, can be an issue—after all, a freezer is incredibly dense, and signals have a very hard time getting in or out. Not good for a kitchen worker who gets locked into a freezer! 

Add in a few extremely dense firewalls (that may not even be on original building blueprints), tunnels in older corrections facilities, winding corridors, multiple floors and different construction materials used in different areas, and you’ve got yourself a truly complex physical environment. 

Actall’s RTLS solutions, unlike most others on the market, are completely customized to a facility. That means that your level of coverage is as granular or broad as you want—the same system that gives you tracking visibility on a room-by-room basis or into higher-security areas such as pharmacies can also be broadened to manage lower-priority areas, like administrative offices or cafeterias. 

Strategic antenna placement, RSSI signal sensitivity tuning, dual frequency (2.4 GHz for short-range signals, 900 MHz for long-range transmission) and variable locator density are just a few of the innovations we’re proud to have brought to market to help improve safety for people in the facility and protect high-dollar equipment assets. Each of these innovations solves for problems common to complex physical environments. 

Don’t Wait—Be Proactive

The troubling truth is, we’re not often called in to install an RTLS system or replace one that didn’t measure up until an incident has taken place. In addition to physical injury and emotional distress, these safety incidents can result in massive lawsuits. 

We always encourage proactive action, but sometimes it’s hard to tell if you’re due for an upgrade or if it’s time for an entirely new system. To help you make that decision, take a look at the following factors: 

  • Precision of location when a duress alarm goes off
  • Frequency of alarms
  • Time it takes to convey the alarm
  • Visibility holes in your coverage 
  • Recent expansions or construction, as that will impact coverage
  • How “complex” your building is—tunnels, multiple stories, stairwells, multiple additions, etc. 

Of course, we’re always here to answer any questions you may have—and we love to talk RTLS. Please feel free to contact us anytime.