Keeping track of your security guards with guard tour software is increasingly becoming standard practice, particularly given the importance of accountability in the security industry.
Guard tour software typically employs one or multiple methods to track guard location, each bringing varied benefits, and each suited to different types of security contracts and requirements. In this post, we will step through some of the most common technologies used for tracking, the pros and cons of each, and when to use them.
1. GPS + Geo-fences
GPS is probably the most common method of tracking guard location. GPS works by using a network of about 30 satellites orbiting the Earth. The system was originally developed by the US Government for military navigation, but as we know today the technology is available in most smartphones.
The satellites broadcast information about their position, GPS receivers intercept these signals, calculate the distance from the satellites and then determine your location using a process called trilateration.
In the delivery of security services, GPS is commonly used for the following;
- Confirm that a guard is on site and doing their job
- Confirm that a guard is in a vehicle completing their mobile patrols
- Defend against false claims, whether an incident has occurred or a client is saying your guard didn't show up
- Improve safety and response times by knowing where guards are in an emergency situation
Benefits of using GPS:
- Easy to implement - no physical hardware needs to be deployed. A geo-fence (virtual GPS perimeter) can be quickly created around a property
- Low cost - no hardware costs and implementation costs are typically lower
Challenges when using GPS:
- Limited accuracy in indoor environments
- Cannot determine altitude, therefore cannot track across building levels
- Can significantly reduce a smartphone’s battery life is used incorrectly
When to use GPS for security services:
GPS is an excellent solution if you only need to know whether your guards are on site and you do not require granular indoor or multi-level tracking. If you need to know a guard has visited a particular checkpoint within a property then you may want to consider one of the options below.
2. Bluetooth Beacons
Bluetooth Beacons are a newer technology and have only been used for tracking purposes since around 2014. Lighthouse was one of the first guard tour systems to utilize Bluetooth beacons for indoor tracking purposes.
Beacons work by broadcasting unique identifiers using the Bluetooth Low Energy protocol. A smartphone application is able to listen for identifiers, determine proximity from the beacon, and then use this information to determine a guards location within a building. What's more this all happens in the background without the guard having to do anything. As long as they are carrying the smartphone their location will be recorded every time they are in the range of a beacon.
In the delivery of security services, Bluetooth beacons are commonly used for the following;
- Confirm that a guard is visiting specific checkpoints at a property
- Confirm that a guard is visiting a sequence of checkpoints e.g. an internal patrol
- To present specific content and checklists to guards based on their exact location with a property e.g. if they are on the roof, show a rooftop inspection checklist
- To understand exactly where guards are spending their time in an indoor environment e.g. are they spending most of their night shift in the security office?
Benefits of using Bluetooth Beacons:
- Granular tracking - can determine exact location to within 10ft
- Passive - work in the background without a guard having to actively scan a checkpoint with a phone or reader
- Low energy - protocol has been built to have minimal impact on a battery life
- No Internet required - beacons signals can still be received without an Internet connection
Challenges when using Bluetooth Beacons:
- High upfront and ongoing costs - Beacons cost $10-20 per unit and a well planned physical deployment process. Once deployed beacons can require maintenance and have a battery life of 2-3 years (depending on broadcast settings) so will need to be replaced. All of these things make deploying Bluetooth beacons more expensive than deploying a GPS solution.
- Difficult to deploy - there is a significant amount of planning that needs to take place to deploy an effective beacon solution. How many beacons need to be deployed? Which locations within a property? What settings will be optimal? How do we visualize the zone for each beacon on a map? All of these things can be solved with the right partner, however, it takes time to get these things right and ensure deliver an effective solution.
When to use Bluetooth Beacons for security services:
Beacons are an excellent solution if you want granular indoor tracking where guards are not required to actively scan anything to record their location. They are particularly suited to large multi-level facilities such as airports, hospitals, shopping malls, schools etc.
3. RFID/NFC/QR codes
It's worth noting that each of these are differing technologies, however, we have grouped them together as the use cases and benefits are similar when considering tracking guards.
RFID works by encoding data in RFID tags which are captured by a reader using radio waves. NFC is a subset within the family of RFID and is available in most newer smartphones. QR codes are essentially a barcode that is scanned by a QR code reader within a smartphone application. They are all similar in that a guard is required to actively scan a tag or barcode to confirm they have visited a specific location within a property. RFID and NFC have a little less friction when scanning as you only need to hold the phone or reader near the tag, whereas QR codes require you to hold a scanner up to the barcode and read it. QR codes have the benefit of being lower cost and easier to deploy and maintain. If you need a new CR code you can simply generate and print one in a matter of minutes.
Benefits of using RFID/NFC/QR Codes:
- Hyper granular tracking - can determine exact location to within a few feet
- No Internet required - RFID signals can still be received and CR codes can still be scanned without an Internet connection
- Tags and codes are lower cost than beacons
- QR codes are quick and easy to create and replace
Challenges when using RFID/NFC/QR codes
- Active scanning means that guards have to remember to use their phone or scanner whilst completing security patrols. With beacons, this happens passively in the background.
- Installation - have to purchase and deploy RFID/NFC tags across your property and map them back to specific zones in your guard tour system
- Hardware - many RFID systems use wand based scanners that guards have to carry in addition to a mobile phone and radio. These wands can be unreliable and are expensive to replace
- Data delay - Some RFID systems do not transmit data in real-time and therefore there is a delay in being able to access reports.
- Aesthetics - Tags and codes may not be suitable for public spaces due to aesthetic reasons.
When to use RFID/NFC/QR codes for security services:
Tags and codes are a good option if you need a lower cost solution that provides granular indoor or checkpoint tracking. Tags have less scanning friction for the guard but are more expensive to deploy and maintain when compared to QR codes. QR codes are a fantastic low-cost option in environments where installing a small QR code at key checkpoints will not impact the aesthetics of the space e.g. industrial sites, back of house areas etc.
As you've probably gathered, the best tracking technology to use for tracking guards depends on the environment and your goals. Sometimes it may even make sense to leverage multiple technologies in a single property e.g. Geo-fences combined with QR codes. Given this, it's important to ensure that the guard tour solution you select is flexible enough to be able to utilize multiple technologies for tracking guard location.
Lighthouse uses GPS, Beacons, and QR codes to provide a complete and flexible guard tour system for medium to large security providers.