This blog is part two in a six-part series discussing how Digital Transformation will affect Emergency Preparedness. Throughout this series, we explore how Digital Transformation is helping to positively impact Emergency Readiness in the Petrochemical and Refining sectors. 


Blog Series Introduction: Emergency Preparedness and Digital Transformation

Location, Location, and Location. As the old real estate adage goes, these are the three most important things to consider when buying or selling a home.  

In our industry, there is a lot of discussion around Location and Digital Transformation as it relates to personnel. Terms like, “personnel location,” “people tracking”, “RFID chips” are common in our daily conversations.

It seems simple enough. Let’s just give each person a trackable device of some sort and we’ll know where they are all the time. Problem solved. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

There are several key questions to ask before seriously considering personnel location services as a viable option at your plant.

Is this REALLY solving the problem we have?

One of the key rules for effective transformation applies: Define the problem.  Do you REALLY want to know exactly where every person is at all times?? In every discussion I have had with industry professionals, this isn’t really the goal.  So, what is driving the discussion?

Productivity: For example, if we know where our contractors are all the time, we can hold them more accountable for their billing for services. In theory, we should be able to increase time on tools or “wrench” time.

On the other hand, if safety is the main driver, does knowing the location of everyone dramatically increase safety and decrease risk? Equally important is the question of whether each person will know he or she is accounted for.  It is one thing to be able to see the device on a screen, but during a true emergency, how will that person know that he or she is accounted for? Thus far, there isn’t a feedback loop available for the device holder.

What technology should we choose?

Currently, there are badges with RFID available, GPS trackable phones, gas monitors and two-way radios, wearable options for hard hats or helmets, personnel “tags,” etc. How does your organization determine the right form factor and application for your site?

Where will I display the information?

If your site chooses trackable gas monitors AND two-way radios with GPS capability, for example, is the team prepared to administer and use information from multiple systems? How will the site respond to alerts?

How much will this cost?

Recently, I was in a discussion at a large refinery.  The quoted price tag for a full-scale Real-Time Location Services system, which would include Intrinsically Safe Active RFID badges and all of the infrastructure (intrinsically safe wifi access point, etc) was $7.5 M. 

Who will adminster the devices and how?

During another discussion, the Facility Security Officer (FSO) began to recount his concerns when either adding a device for each person or switching to RFID. EVERY worker, whether contract or not, will need to be given an intrinsically safe device assigned ONLY to that person. Security guards are already stretched thin with lost badges, visitor management, security rounds, etc. What impact will administering a separate device have?

What are the legal ramifications and odds of success?

In the European Union, for example, there is legislation that prohibits personnel tracking of any kind. In the US, a highly unionized facility may be a more difficult environment for “tracking.”


Moving toward Personnel Location

While many of you could certainly raise other concerns, perhaps it will be more productive to look at ways to effectively start the journey toward the future.  Here are a few thoughts on how to start the journey and what to consider:

Start with inanimate objects

As challenging it may seem to track individuals, tracking equipment and vehicles is proven, tested technology.  Why not put a GPS device on your fire truck or emergency response vehicle? Why not track assets like generators and fork trucks during a turnaround? There are genuine business benefits (like loss prevention) to this approach without some of the personnel challenges.

Start small and/or start with one application

If you have specific workers working in remote areas, perhaps you assign a GPS enabled radio to that person and monitor him or her only. The worker down application can start the journey. Maybe the site Emergency Response Team tries out a few fire helmets with wearable tech and “tracks” them into the hot zone during a drill or two?

Remember the mission

If the accountability of people in an emergency is the goal, ask whether the current approach to accountability has been tested. Does each worker have a responsibility for his or her safety first? Will adding tracking make individuals more complacent?  These are very real concerns that sites have raised.

Think ahead

If the future involves multiple applications of technology for personnel tracking, it would be prudent to consider how and where the site will use this information. A single platform with multiple application inputs may make the most sense. Investigate how your lone worker application and your mustering data might display in a single place for Emergency Readiness and Response.

Ask a few hard questions

Over the last few years, there have been dozens of start-up companies touting their capability to “track your people.”  Many have come and gone because the adoption rate is slow. Undoubtedly, this trend will continue for several more years. It is imperative that these companies have staying power and expertise. Please ask how long they have been in business, how many customers they have and exactly how many high hazard facilities are running their solution. If the tech hasn’t proven out at multiple refineries or chemical plants, it may be wise to look elsewhere.



Digital Transformation has finally become more than a buzzword. Hence, personnel safety will be a significant area of opportunity as our companies transform. Emergency Readiness is a discipline ripe for improvement and will benefit enormously from this transformation.  Like any quantum change, though, a well thought out strategy followed by a measurable, detailed analysis are key to ensuring success. inFRONT would love to hear your stories about the journey of digital transformation. Whether they are specific to a location or involve other emergency response tools, we welcome your thoughts.

2021 emergency response trends