As I sit here in early April writing about COVID-19, my hope is that by the time this article is published the state of the global pandemic looks much different. At present, the virus has infected millions (and counting), has claimed tens of thousands of lives, and has upended or suspended entire industries. For the security industry, these historic moments of stress and anxiety give us a chance to represent our best qualities: ingenuity, resourcefulness, and empathy towards those who face a daily struggle to stay healthy and safe.
I am focusing my column this month on several unique technology solutions that are applicable to the COVID-19 fight, knowing that the reality is that implementation will likely come too late due to the strain on the healthcare system as well as the broader economy. Nevertheless, the pandemic can serve as a prompt to review lessons learned and plan for future outbreaks.
Security industry tools useful in the fight against a pandemic are seemingly evolving in real-time, so a caveat to the discussion of these technologies is that I have not had a chance to see them implemented in the wild. I am also not a HIPAA expert, so please check with appropriate legal resources to ensure there are no compliance issues.
Perhaps the most impactful application of security technology is the use of thermal imaging cameras. If thermal imaging technology can help determine who among a crowd of people has an elevated body temperature, that information could theoretically be used to scan large crowds in real time and direct those with suspected fevers to a secondary screening area. This would rapidly increase the throughput of any number of checkpoints, from airports to hospitals, by eliminating the need to use a conventional thermometer on entire crowds of people.
In fact, this is exactly the solution that has been put forth by Dahua. “Currently, handheld thermometers are used by trained personnel in special protective clothing – this solution is expensive and is either not available or not viable for most of our customers,” says Ted Curtin of Repworks, which represents Dahua in the Northeastern United States.
Dahua’s solution couples a thermal imaging camera with a blackbody device, which constantly monitors ambient temperature and provides a consistent and accurate reference temperature to the camera. As people enter the field of view, the camera scans for major blood vessels near the eyes, which have a high correlation to internal body temperature. Accuracy is approximately +/- 0.5°.
“The camera supports monitoring up to three people per second – much faster than handheld solutions and without fear of cross-contamination,” Curtin says.
Perhaps the biggest benefit to thermal technology is that operators do not need to be near people being screened, which limits exposure to security personnel. Outputs on the camera can be used to signal an alarm, which in turn can be used, for instance, to deny entry at an access control door. In a simple configuration, Dahua’s own NVR can double as a workstation, allowing a completely closed, rapidly deployable solution that does not need to communicate over a facility enterprise network.
A couple of unique access control applications have also been introduced in response to COVID-19. Openpath, a cloud-based access control platform, has found a way to use the large repository of data at its disposal to anonymously track and report on overall social distancing trends.
“Openpath’s cloud-managed access control platform has real-time visibility into the entry logs of more than 1,200 unique organizations spanning the country,” says Kieran Hannon, Chief Marketing Officer of Openpath. “This allows us to accurately report anonymous activity levels in these buildings, showing the reaction to the social distancing mandate as it is happening, by geography and by industry. The unique organizations are made up of a wide range of industry segments, including (but not limited to) commercial real estate, business/enterprise, places of worship, gyms, retail and manufacturing, giving Openpath heightened insights into how COVID-19 is impacting our country and economy at a much more granular level.”
Openpath publishes updated statistics to their website at http://openpath.com/social-distancing-index.
Another tool enabling organizations to track exposure locally has been developed by Detrios, called the COVID-19 Exposure Report Tool (CERT) – a free plugin application to many popular access control platforms. The tool enables operators to use a building card access history to track proximity of cardholders to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. This list of cardholders may help prioritize the issuance of stay-at-home orders or further monitoring.
Several video analytic companies have also joined the fight against COVID-19. While the use of analytics to detect anomalous behavior is not new, several analytics have been useful in ensuring social distancing is maintained or curfews are obeyed. Both Smartvid.io and Digital Barriers have developed solutions that monitor proximity of individuals to one another and trigger alarms if social distance requirements are not met.
The security industry will undoubtedly continue to develop new technologies to help the global community prepare for the next pandemic. Once the dust settles from the current crisis, we will once again be left with opportunities to help prepare, plan, and innovate, shining a light on the very best qualities we have to offer.
Brian Coulombe is Principal and Director of Operations at DVS, a division of Ross & Baruzzini. Contact him at [email protected], through Linked in at www.linkedin.com/in/brian-coulombe, or on Twitter @DVS_RB.