Which is the Best Personal Safety Tracker System Available Commercially?
ETS Risk Management is regularly asked about their tracking solutions, and emailed by people from around the world wanting more information on micro devices for anti kidnap, some even wanting devices implanted in their skin. There appears to be a large amount of confusion surrounding tracking, what is available, how each system/device works, and what is the best solution. This article aims to help answer some questions.
It is important to note early on in this article:
“There is no one perfect personal safety tracking solution”
This article’s objective is to identify the three different types of tracking commercially available, noting the advantages and disadvantages of each type, and providing opinions on how best to utilize each form in different scenarios.
There are three methods of tracking:
- Mobile/Cell SIM card based
- Radio Frequency based
Mobile/Cell based tracking solutions:
Generally speaking, utilizing GSM Signal (via SIM card based devices or cell-phone Apps) to micro-locate, and send SMS messages to web-based platforms. Click here to learn about the difference between GSM and GPS
The main advantages of this type of tracking application or device are:
- Often cheap/free to download or purchase. Cell phone apps and monthly costs can vary from $20 – 1$00 USD PCM and devices to purchase from $50 - $500 USD.
- GSM signal is generally globally available in urban areas
A GSM tracking application of any brand has five main disadvantages:
- Power Management. The inherent drain that the system has on the cell phone/device means that any device will only have a short time period of functionality. The user will have to be more focused on charging the battery regularly, or carrying a spare battery.
- Due to the power drain of these devices the battery size requirement means that all GSM based devices will never be classed as Micro. They must by their nature be big enough to store a good size battery, or they would not be able to sustain any usable operational period.
- In a violent incident to the user, for example a mugging or express kidnap then the cell phone, or obvious electrical devices are the normally the first thing that is taken from the person, and discarded.
- In the case of a natural disaster, civil disturbance or terrorist act the GSM networks often either fail, are turned off or become jammed.
- A GSM signal can suddenly drop-out especially in remote areas, valleys or between cities/towns when traveling.
A satellite-based tracking device utilizes commercial satellites on various networks (Iridium and Inmarsat being the most popular) to micro locate the position and communicate.
The main advantages of this type of tracking device are:
- Extremely accurate micro-location
- Will work anywhere as long as there is line of sight and the satellites are overhead. Perfect for areas where GSM may not be found or is sporadic.
It has four main disadvantages:
- Power Management. - any satellite based device will only have a comparatively short time period of functionality. The user will have to be more focused on charging the battery regularly or carrying a spare battery.
- Due to the power drain of these devices the battery size requirement means that all satellite based devices will never be classed as Micro or mini. They must by their nature be big enough to store a good size battery, or they would not be able to sustain any usable operational period.
- That line of sight with open air is often required to establish a connection with the satellite and depending on the operating system that you are utilizing.
- Satellite is comparatively expensive to GSM-based devices and satellite airtime is also quite expensive. The average Satellite tracking and communication device is circa $1,000 USD and air time ranges from $50-200 USD PCM.
Radio Frequency (RF)
RF tracking utilizes radio frequencies to locate a tracking device by receiving and triangulating frequency strength. It is perfectly suited to high net worth individuals or families at high risk of kidnap.
Organized and intelligent criminals will often immediately remove bags, jackets and electronics from their kidnap victims in case obvious tracking devices are hidden, others will completely strip their victims and give them fresh clothing.
The main advantages of this system are:
- Cutting edge technology previously the sole domain of government level operations, largely unknown to criminals, terrorists or gangs.
- The devices have very low power requirements and therefore devices can be much smaller and are easily hidden in smaller items such as clothing, shoes and personal items. Personal items can be adapted to contain the equipment rather than items and clothing being purchased with equipment (e.g. Sneakers that may not be suitable for the client).
- The signals are extremely efficient and do not get blocked easily by being underground, they do not need line of sight with the receiving equipment and can be tracked (depending on terrain) from significant distances.
- The devices allow a trained to team to micro-locate with excellent accuracy, even able to interrogate elevation e.g. floor and room in an apartment block.
- The devices require tailoring to client requirements and installing in personal items, this can take time to install properly and requires specialists to install.
- The devices need to be tracked manually if an incident occurs, this would often involve at least two vehicles, or preferably one airborne platform (helicopter/plane) and two vehicles,
- The tracking team needs training in how to read and interrogate the devices and signal.
- RF devices are expensive and the micro-locating equipment is even more expensive. A fully operational package averages $150,000 to $200,000 USD and then you need a reaction capability if the worse case scenario occurs. It is therefore often the reserve for Ultra HNWIs.
Personal Tracking Overview:
Cell Phone Tracking Apps Advantages
- As a primary tracking and alert device the cell phone software is excellent. Cell phones are very rarely out of reach of people these days, and if an incident occurs there is a very good chance that the user will be able to make an initial alert. The cell phone tracking systems are generally user-friendly, and perfectly suited to basic tracking. And minor emergencies such as medical incidents, or a state of feeling threatened, or identifying potential risk. These are normally very useful as part of a corporate travel risk management plan.
GSM Tracking Devices Advantages
- GSM tracking devices are more concealable and designed to be hidden on the person better than cell phones and can be used as a semi-covert alert and SOS system in case of kidnap or abduction. Utilizing the same GSM-based system as cell phone apps an alert can be initiated if a cell phone is stolen or discarded. These are normally very useful for NGOs, student travelers, or remote workers in conjunction with other tracking devices.
Satellite Based Tracking Advantages
- The satellite-based tracking systems are far more suited for emergency SOS alerts and communication if GSM coverage is lost. Due to the use of the satellite network, it is not reliant on the GSM network and therefore specifically suited to ensuring emergency communication or covert tracking where GSM does not have coverage. If the principal is involved in an incident and there is no GSM coverage or GSM has failed (e.g. Natural disaster) then satellite devices will still function. These are normally very useful for NGOs, student travelers, or remote workers in conjunction with other tracking devices.
RF Based Tracking Advantages
- To provide the best possible chance of being located in a kidnap scenario one must try and utilize equipment that can be hidden in items that are least likely to be removed or will be removed last, often when in a final destination or items that may be kept by kidnappers as they are of high value. These items often include footwear, underwear, belts, pants and jewelry. Therefore RF based tracking is best suited to Ultra HNWIs and their families at high risk of kidnap.
REMEMBER - Tracking is just a small part of Travel Risk Management
It is extremely important to understand that Tracking is just a small part of a Travel Risk Management Plan. To learn more about how we can assist with your Travel Risk Management strategy please feel free to Contact Us and/or read an article we wrote explaining our Travel Risk Management GEBIR principal. ETS Risk Management provide comprehenisve travel risk management services to corporates, NGOs and scholastic organizations.
ETS - Our Tracking Solutions Tailored To Anti-Kidnap for Ultra HNWIs
ETS Risk Management provide tracking solutions tailored to Ultra HNWIs and their families at risk of kidnap. Click here to learn more.
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