Why Go Wireless?

Jan. 7, 2002
Why not?

By Kathleen Merrick

Imagine a 1 million-square-foot building with 3,000 pieces of fire and safety equipment. All require inspection to prove compliance to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). That includes more than 1,000 fire extinguishers, hundreds of fire pumps, safety exits, and tamper switches.

For many facilities, that means arming fire and safety technicians with clipboards, paper, and pencils. Technicians must record all inspections on handwritten log sheets and, when they’re finished, they must enter all information into a computer. Hours, days, or weeks later, someone prints out reports and shuffles them into a big filing cabinet.

Now, imagine this: a fire and safety technician uses a hand-held computer to scan barcodes placed on fire extinguishers and other safety equipment. Each time a barcode is scanned, the time, date, and location of the information is automatically recorded into the hand-held computer. The device even prompts the user through a series of tasks required to complete the inspection.

When the technician has collected data from the last fire extinguisher, he touches a button on the hand-held computer, sending all collected data to a host PC, right then and there. A facilities professional sitting at the PC has immediate access to all of the day’s inspection information, and can then print out detailed reports in minutes.

Sound too good to be true? It’s not. The rapid evolution of wireless technology has given birth to software applications that render once time-consuming building operations fast, efficient, and highly effective.

Here’s how it works. The hand-held computer actually has a modem chip built into the device, allowing a user to send and receive information over a wireless, wide area network (WWAN). The user simply dials up a wireless carrier and gains Internet Protocol (IP) access from just about anywhere. Using this wireless IP technology, the device transmits small “packets” of secure data over existing phone networks.

Another option in addition to a WWAN is using a wireless local area network (WLAN) technology, such as Symbol Technologies Spectrum 24. This system involves strategically placed antennas that create a wireless bridge between existing hard-wired LANs and wireless devices. This powerful backbone enables a user to implement multiple applications and devices, offering connectivity with other departments and buildings as an added bonus.

Using a wireless system in conjunction with hand-held computers, software, and barcodes for equipment inspections often yields an immense increase in productivity. The benefits are endless. Technicians are no longer burdened with paperwork. Data entry is eliminated, and data integrity is restored. Errors caused by human error dwindle down to nothing. Compliance is proven quickly, and insurance premiums are reduced.

But, perhaps, the biggest advantage in using wireless technology is the rapid increase in productivity. What used to take weeks – even months – now takes hours. Technicians are freed up to complete other tasks, maximizing efficiency and facility operations as a whole.

The best part? As technologies advance, and wireless hardware manufacturers improve their product, solutions not only become faster, more reliable, and more effective, but more affordable as well. Why go wireless? Why not?

Kathleen Merrick is director of technology at Poway, CA-based TISCOR (www.tiscor.com). Merrick has made numerous contributions, including expanding both the wireless network infrastructure and the remote capabilities of TISCOR’s satellite sites and products.

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