Desperate times calls for desperate measures. Much of the world shut down last spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic — restaurants, offices, schools, movie theaters, entertainment venues. In order for businesses to reopen, they had to find solutions that would allow people to safely return.
However, there isn’t one secret weapon to combat this virus. Instead, we must rely on a combination of tools and protocols.
According to a Honeywell building occupant study conducted at the end of 2020, a staggering 71% of the U.S. workforce does not feel completely safe working in their employers’ buildings. Even more eye-opening, 82% of those working remotely are skeptical about returning to their workplace.
Nearly half (48%) of surveyed workers said their building management has not taken the steps necessary to keep them safer on the job.
Being in the business of life safety, security integrators are well-suited to help society get back to something remotely close to normalcy. Manufacturers took little time to begin offering solutions to help users mitigate the spread of the virus, detect symptomatic individuals and contact trace.
By creating a suite of back-to-work solutions to offer customers, integrators can help businesses and end users feel more comfortable about working and playing.
A common phrase that has been thrown around during the pandemic is, “the situation is fluid.” Even with the vaccine rolling out, that is still the case. COVID infections can go down one week, but then spike the next due to a holiday or super-spreader event. The best course of action an integrator can take is to talk to each client and find exactly what they are looking for before throwing a bunch of solutions on the table.
“From our standpoint, we really like to start with the assessment and the conversation with the customer rather than the product. We step back [and look at what the customer is asking for], as opposed to, is it just thermal or is it people-counting or each of the individual functions and really assess all the needs. Not just the short-term to immediate, but the longer-term strategy,” says Michael Hanlon, senior director of hosted and managed solutions for Allied Universal.
To get the lowdown on the latest technologies, SSI spoke with industry stakeholders that promulgate the different solutions in the thermal and access control space, as well as how these technologies can be used beyond the pandemic and more.
Thermal Goes Mainstream
One technology that gained much attention early on was the use of thermal imaging to detect individuals with an elevated temperature, a common symptom of COVID-19. While this in theory can be an effective solution, it won’t detect anyone that may have the virus but is asymptomatic.
However, it can still be an effective solution when used in conjunction with other solutions and remains a popular option with certain businesses.
When it comes to temperature detection solutions, options range from cheap handheld scanners, to more expensive thermal imaging products that require ongoing calibration. While thermographic cameras can be accurate to within a degree Fahrenheit, they require very specific conditions in order to operate efficiently.
Thermal cameras that use a blackbody device as an external temperature reference can help remedy issue, though there are still factors involving individuals that can impact the accuracy of a temperature measurement.
“People should remove their hats and glasses for their measurements and ideally they should also remove their masks for the best temperature reading. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, the FDA determined that the risk of spreading COVID-19 by removing their mask outweighs the risk of the inaccurate temperature readings,” explains Bosch Vertical Marketing Manager Dan Reese. “Also, people who come in from harsh weather outside, they should remove any heavy clothing and wait at least 15 minutes for their temperature to stabilize. If they’ve been exercising strenuously they should wait 30 minutes after that. It’s also important that people who are detected with elevated temperature should always go through a secondary check with a noncontact or clinical grade contact thermometer.”
Though handheld scanners and thermal cameras receive most of the spotlight, there is another type of solution that is available as a viable alternative: self-service wrist scanners. Because these devices allow the user to take their own temperature, they can be considered more safe than handheld solutions, which require a person to hold the scanner within a few feet of an individual.
These solutions are also just as accurate if not slightly more so than thermal cameras because temperature is taken within a few inches of the skin, compared to one foot or more with a camera.
While the price of thermal cameras may make them unattainable for many organizations, the affordability of wrist scanners opens up a whole new segment of potential clients, according to MachineSense Managing Partner Conrad Bessemer. “The idea here is that for integrators it gives them a new bag of tricks, a new product out there that is at a lower price point that can penetrate some of that lower-end marketplace that they didn’t think it was possible for them to integrate without spending thousands of dollars,” he explains.
One thing these solutions have in common with thermal cameras is they can also be integrated with security doors, gates, kiosks, magnetic locking systems, RFID and other systems, though typically at a lower cost.
Spread People, Not Disease
Solutions such as contact tracing, people-counting and access control can play an integral part in controlling COVID-19 spread. Thanks to advanced artificial intelligence, these methods can also utilize cameras for applications other than temperature detection.
“Video systems powered by deep learning analytics can also be affordably used for a range of other infection risk reduction tasks. These include accurate counting of the people coming in and out of a premise to provide staff with oversight and control of occupancy and density in real-time,” explains IDIS America Sales Director Jason Burrows. “The same technology can be applied to automate announcements or trigger staff to issue verbal advice and warnings over PA systems to customers should they fail to adhere to social distancing or when bottlenecks occur.”
Mitigating spread at the workplace and on campuses will be crucial to defeating the virus. Access and visitor management technologies can help keep track of people and create an audit trail. That way, if a person ends up testing positive, an organization can track every place they went and who they interacted with. Areas can also be setup to physically prevent too many people from being in one location.
“An access control system can keep track of not only who is in an area, but how many people are in the area. Limits can be set so that if you should only have 25 people in this area and the 26th person swipes their card before that 25th person swiped out, you don’t let them in,” says Tom Mechler, Bosch regional marketing manager – intrusion and access control. “So the system can actually keep people out of areas that might be too crowded in these times when we want to limit the number of people in a certain area.”
Integrators can provide organizations with a complete contact tracing and physical distancing solution by utilizing Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) fobs. These fobs can be given to not only employees, but visitors or contractors as well. For example, a fob can be attached to a lanyard and use peer-to-peer capabilities to provide auditory feedback when it enters the recommended six-foot physical distancing range and remains there for a specified amount of time.
While this is happening, data is being sent to the Cloud for analysis and location information which can then be used to identify where the incident took place. Employers could also set specific distancing policies and alert parameters to mitigate an infection outbreak per public health guidelines.
Another simple way to mitigate COVID spread is contactless access control solutions. Utilizing readers that allow users to open doors with a wave of the hand, their smartphone or a facial scan will result in less touchpoints.
Looking Beyond COVID
While all of these solutions have been brought to the forefront to address the coronavirus, what will happen to them in post-pandemic life? Hanlon says it is important to have a conversation with your customers about the ongoing use of their solutions.
“We frame our conversation with how much of this is just a short-term need versus a long-term strategy. And how do we respond and source this for them properly so that we can meet both their immediate needs and their long-term plans. And we don’t want to throw a band aid or throw a bunch of money onto something that is only going to be used for a short period of time when they also have long-term needs,” he says.
The pandemic has caused everyone to put cleanliness and personal hygiene at top-of-mind. It has also gotten businesses to rethink how they operate.
According to the Integrated Benefits Institute, U.S employers lose around $530 billion per year in illness-related lost productivity. How do illnesses spread? One source can be the close encounters of a typical office space. By eliminating sick employees, businesses won’t have to worry about losing potential profits.
Bessemer notes, “Everything we’ve gone through in the last year will not be easily forgotten. So the acceptance of making sure your employees are well in the office is something that we expect to continue for all of our lifetimes. Before the pandemic, obviously people would come to work sick. But now if people cough or sneeze in the office or have a temperature, you don’t want them there. Most of the people we’ve talked to see this as a permanent way of keeping sick people out of this type of situation because they see COVID, in its various forms, as something we will live with for a long time.”
While some may scoff at the idea of spending so much money on thermal cameras for short-term use at entrances or reception areas, Burrows says integrators can benefit from explaining that thermal imaging can be used for other applications as well. “For instance, they can send an alert if components are overheating, which can lead to a complete equipment or system failure and result in expensive repair services and call-out fees. It’s likely to generate buy-in from other departments and indeed get budgets released.”
As for cameras that are installed for surveillance applications or purposes such as people-counting, customers now have a host of business intelligence capabilities thanks to the multitude of video analytics that are now available.
Store managers can now get an idea of occupancy levels throughout the day, heatmaps showing the most highly trafficked areas of the business, and of course, keep an eye on employees.
“The strongest argument for implementing new video solutions to meet the requirements in place now is that the same technology will provide solid value and valuable tools going forward. The intelligence that video analytics can now deliver will help organizations to be more efficient and flexible,” adds Burrows. “Users will also see the logic of investing in systems that offer a high degree of future-proofing. They’ll also want the assurance that their vendor has a credible technology roadmap, and the financial stability to ensure long term product support and warranties against failure.”
Working With What You Got
While the concepts of elevated temperature detection and contact-tracing may seem new to customers, for the most part, these methods utilize existing technologies. It’s important for integrators to take stock of their client’s existing access control and surveillance systems and figure out how they can be leveraged with little to no new investment.
“As an integrator, those are questions that we go back to our partners. So we’re going back to the access control back, back to our visitor management [partners]. We’re bringing them into the conversation and seeing how that information gets leveraged, how we share integrated platforms in order to deliver more value. Because of the evolving space there really is no one size fits all,” says Hanlon. “There’s really just a matching of the existing platforms with the new solutions that are being added to them to make sure we’re giving the customer what they’re looking for as opposed to a single solution because there is no one size fits all solution out there, that we know of, that we can just apply to each of our customers.”
Burrows adds that there are many tools, features and functions within video management software and onboard cameras that customers are underutilizing or have previously never used. Integrators should work closely with their suppliers to offer clients tech support and online training.
“One example is configuring mobile applications on smartphones and tablets, so that managers can ensure social distancing in control rooms, stagger shifts, or allow staff to isolate and work from home as and when required while enabling them to maintain visual awareness of their sites. This can be via viewing live footage, playback, searching and bookmarking through to using P/T/Z control and fisheye dewarping, which allows them to track suspicious activity and investigate incidents. Users can also configure targeted notifications to be sent to individuals and groups, via SMS or email,” he notes.
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