Researchers test personal alarm system
By Liz Crumbley
Spectrum Volume 19 Issue 32 - June 5, 1997
Will a Personal Alarm Location System (PALS) developed for use in prisons operate effectively on university campuses?
Virginia Tech's Center for Wireless Telecommunications (CWT) has received research grants from Dominion Wireless Inc. of Sterling, and the Virginia Center for Innovative Technology to test the company's PALS in the university environment. Dennis Sweeney, principal investigator for the project, said CWT researchers will determine the location accuracy of PALS when operated in campus settings and also will design a computer model to make university installation easier and less expensive.
The system is comprised of a series of strategically placed radio receivers that report signals to a central computer, Sweeney said. A person using the system carries a transmitter that emits signals to the radio receivers. Signal strength is translated into distance, so the central computer can mark the location of people carrying transmitters. A network of PALS receivers can locate an individual within 20 feet indoors or 100 feet outdoors.
Dominion Wireless already has PALS networks in operation at several prisons in Canada, where corrections officers and support staff members carry transmitters in high-risk situations.
On a university campus, Sweeney said, the system could be used for a variety of purposes. Students would lease miniature personal-alarm transmitters that could be activated to summon campus security personnel from any location on campus, indoors or out. For example, a student walking across campus at night could send an alarm signal if she encountered trouble. The central computer would pinpoint her location for campus security officers.
A PALS network would have to monitor much larger areas at universities than at prisons, so CWT researchers will test new calibration tools and verify their accuracy at Virginia Tech. When the tests are completed later this summer, Sweeney said, the CWT will invite Tech security officers to see a demonstration of PALS. (Virginia Tech has no plans at this time to install a personal location system.)