Design and Construction, Maintenance and Operations

Should Your Facility Have an Indoor Positioning System?

Let’s face it: Nobody likes getting lost. But facilities professionals, their colleagues in other departments, visitors, and customers often get lost when navigating unfamiliar facilities or even unfamiliar parts of their own facilities. They might also be hesitant to ask for directions, or maybe they just can’t find anyone to ask.

There is a strong reliance on good old-fashioned paper maps and hard-copy floor plans, but there are problems with these, such as:

  • They become quickly outdated due to use changes, renovations, and expansions.
  • They are difficult for some to read.
  • They aren’t customizable, and blueprints could reveal security vulnerabilities to the public.
  • They aren’t helpful if users cannot find where they are located.

Instead of paper maps, facilities managers should implement an indoor positioning system (IPS), the benefits of which include the following:

  • These 3D maps can be accessed on smart devices (smartphone, tablet, laptop).
  • They can be customized for the audience (public, students, employees, first responders).
  • They emit a blinking blue dot on their screens indicating “you are here.”
  • They provide step-by-step directions in real time.

In February 2022, the National Library of Medicine cited an article about how IPS will become a $24 billion industry in 2023. Therefore, facilities professionals should become knowledgeable about this growing industry by understanding how to set up an IPS; how to meet their department’s needs; and how IPS can help office workers, educational facilities, first responders, hospitals, and medical facilities, as well as indoor and outdoor shopping centers.

Setting Up IPS

IPS uses wireless sensors to identify the location of people or assets. According to the Open Access Government, many facilities use multiple methods for more precise locations. These can include:

  • Radio frequency identification (RFID)—Active transmitters are battery-operated and communicate real-time location information at range. Passive transmitters are not battery-powered and produce a signal to receivers when in close range. RFID can pass through walls, but metal can interfere.
  • Infrared (IR) wireless—Transmitters use IR to send the signal to receivers; these require a line of sight and are very inexpensive.
  • Wi-Fi Internet antennas—These utilize a technology most facilities already have for the Internet, but users should take certain precautions.
  • Bluetooth—This is a low-power solution to pair wireless peripherals but has a shorter range than RFID. It is cost-effective, but the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency notes security concerns.
  • Ultra-wideband (UWB)—Beacons pass off a high-frequency radio signal. While UWB has centimeter-level accuracy, it is very expensive.
  • Cellular—This utilizes existing cellular towers but is prone to indoor interference, and its accuracy is lower.
  • Global positioning system (GPS)—This utilizes the existing satellite-based navigation system made up of at least 24 satellites. Most smart devices have GPS. This can work with IPS and is helpful when getting directions within multibuilding sites like college campuses, hospitals, and outdoor shopping centers.

There are six reasons for facilities professionals to set up IPS and are unique to the needs of the facility:

1. Facilities Professionals’ Department Needs

IPS allows facilities management personnel to easily view building blueprints on portable devices so they can locate:

  • Resources and supplies in utility closets and storage areas
  • Items that need to be repaired or replaced as part of a service order request
  • Internet of Things (IoT) devices such as thermostats, environmental controls, and cameras

2. Office Workers

Facilities management personnel should work with office management to map office complexes. There are several benefits to providing IPS services to office workers:

  • Health and safety: Promote social distancing, view traffic flow, and conduct COVID contact tracing.
  • Bookings: Show meeting room and desk availability.
  • Recruiting: Use innovative technology to attract new hires who visit for tours and interviews.
  • Utilization: View sections of the office that are used the most.

3. Educational Facilities

Facilities management professionals should work with educational leaders to determine what resources they would like to provide visitors, students, and staff. These resources could include:

  • Locating classrooms and amenities
  • Showing campus points of interest added for specific events like job fairs and commencements
  • Going on virtual tours

4. First Responders

Facilities management professionals should work with first responders in utilizing IPS. According to the Open Geospatial Consortium, first responders can utilize mobile 3D light detection and ranging (LiDAR) and 360-degree camera images, along with advanced software, to capture information just by walking through buildings in preplanning operations.

In a June 2022 press release, the Department of Homeland Security reported it funded a cloud-based capability allowing first responders to see the layout of structures and digitized floor plans, such as in 3D.

Moreover, rather than relying on general knowledge of a building, using IPS, first responders can be dispatched to a specific section of the building, such as the third floor, the east wing, or outside Room 312 at the university science building, where an incident is occurring.

First responders can also benefit from IPS by adding key information such as:

  • Best ways to enter a building
  • Sensor information that indicates gunshots and the presence of life
  • Building materials
  • Location of fire hydrants, fire hoses, and emergency exits
  • Location of hazardous materials

5. Hospitals and Medical Facilities

Hospitals can be confusing facilities to navigate for patients and visitors, who are often already under a lot of anxiety. IPSs could ensure costly hospital assets do not leave authorized areas. Facilities management professionals should therefore work with hospitals and medical facilities to:

  • Show important resources, like specific medical departments and offices.
  • Provide the location of elevators and ramps to increase accessibility.
  • Have an audible alarm for equipment or patients who leave restricted areas (for staff).
  • View the location of equipment in real time (for staff).

6. Indoor and Outdoor Shopping Malls

Today’s shoppers are not interested in searching for a mall directory sign for information, so IPS could allow them to quickly find what they are looking for. Additional benefits include:

  • Helps shoppers find stores, restaurants, deals, and special events
  • Helps people with visual or audio disabilities navigate
  • Provides location of escalators, elevators, restrooms, and vending machines

Facilities management personnel, office workers, colleges and universities, first responders, hospital and medical facilities, and indoor and outdoor shopping malls are just some of the groups that can benefit from IPS. Therefore, facilities management professionals should speak with management about how IPS can solve their facilities’ unique challenges.

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