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Radio-frequency identification has clearly caught the attention of the world's biggest retailers to track goods as they move through supply chains. But the DeKalb County Juvenile Court in Georgia thinks RFID can be put to use on a smaller scale, to keep tabs on the 12,000 manila file folders on more than 9,000 children processed through the court system each year.
It's estimated that DeKalb County Juvenile Court clerks spend on average 10 hours weekly searching for lost files required for various hearings, judges, clerks, and other court personnel. With RFID, the goal is to eliminate misplaced files and ensure judges are better informed to make quicker decisions based on having the information at hand. "We have about 2,200 cases of neglect investigated every year, and between 1,100 and 1,200 kids in foster care at any given time," says Judge Robin Nash. "My assistant spends about two hours daily trying to track down files on the three floors of the courthouse, and we believe the RFID system will become a huge labor savings."
The court system is expected to hear Tuesday whether it will receive $50,000 from the Georgia court's $5.7 million annual budget to install a RFID system from 3M, according to Dale Phillips, the director of court services for the DeKalb County Juvenile Court. Phillips says the 3M RFID Tracking System would save the court at least $30,000 a year in productivity gains by cutting the time clerks spend on locating files, leaving them more time to focus on other, more pressing tasks. Although tags for the deployment would cost about 80 cents each, a return on the investment could be realized in less than two years, Phillips says. Other courthouse divisions are investigating RFID, and the county's information systems department also is considering deploying RFID throughout DeKalb, he says.
The DeKalb County Juvenile Court RFID system would use labels with passive semiconductors from Texas Instruments that transmit on 13.56-MHz frequency and readers, handheld devices, and necessary software from 3M. The system comes with three software packages that connect to a Microsoft Sequel Server database to track file movement. The package would link into the county's court case management software, ACS Contexte, from ACS Inc. There's also an RFID File Locator that would let users search via their PCs for files based on specific criteria such as file number or attorney name. A Pad Monitor that connects with the RFID readers would be installed on computers either to check in or check out files. System Manager software would let administrators import data from the records-management software, program the tags, and import and export information to the portable handheld device.
The court system has scheduled a site assessment to determine the reader configuration on Feb. 1. 3M will visit the DeKalb County Juvenile Court to examine how files move through the judicial system and the record-management software already in place, how files are created and stored, and what criteria is used to identify the folders. 3M also will review who has access to the files once they're created and how many times and for how long files are checked out. Testing will be done to determine the optimal reader and tag locations. "Typically we allocate between two and three days for an installation," says Phil Paolucci, 3M's technical sales specialist for the RFID Tracking System. "After the server is installed and configured, we train a core set of people on all system functions, from installing software to programming a tag to connecting the pad to using the handheld device, so they can train their own staff."
The DeKalb County Juvenile Court already uses a variety of technologies. Judges have PCs on their courtroom benches and carry Research In Motion Ltd.'s BlackBerry handhelds equipped with E-mail. Phillips says he's exploring ways to overhaul the IT infrastructure and make all processes paperless, including an electronic filing system that would create automatic dockets.
Construction begins in May on a new five-floor, 110,000-square-foot courthouse scheduled for completion in early 2007. The RFID tracking system would be installed in the new facility.