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A fluid situation calls for flexibility

December 5, 2021 by Alistair Enser

The survey I recently ran has now closed, and the results remain essentially unchanged since I updated you last week: respondents broadly accept light-touch, benign and technology-based tests to ensure workers are safe to return to the workplace. Employers and – perhaps surprisingly – local and national Government, are trusted by the majority of respondents with the data that these tests create (77% and 62% respectively), over and above bars and restaurants (29%) and, least trusted of all, retailers (25%).

Crime on the rise?

Retailers are in the news this week for other reasons. There is circumstantial evidence emerging that incidents of crime may be on the rise due to the easing of lockdown, the reopening of shops, and the mandatory wearing of facemasks. Why facemasks? Well for many years motorcycle couriers have been asked to remove their helmets before entering banks, to ensure that video surveillance could be used to identify individuals. Now, as the vast majority wear a facemask outside the home, we find ourselves struggling with visual clues.

It’s now recognised that facemasks bring clear health benefits and reduce the spread of COVID-19, but the forced wearing of them gives shoplifters, robbers and those with criminal intentions a greater degree of anonymity. A recent story in Newsweek quoted the experience of law enforcement officers in the USA who have seen an uptick in crime, with criminals wearing a facemask while robbing shop assistants at gunpoint. Criminals in the UK are following suit.

It’s not just facemasks that are enabling crime, either: “In the past if you did a search warrant and you found surgical masks, that would be highly indicative of something [suspicious]. Now everybody has masks or latex gloves,” noted FBI Special Agent Lisa MacNamara, claiming that a surge in the wearing of gloves has also resulted in fewer fingerprints left at crime scenes.

Neither is it just professional criminals who are abusing the rules on facemasks. A phenomenon has emerged on social media platform TikTok, where teenagers dress up as senior citizens wearing facemasks to fool shop owners and buy alcohol and other age-restricted products.

The face behind the mask

Of course, other tools exist to help identify criminals – even if they are wearing facemasks and gloves. Video analytics can support techniques such as gait analysis, where the movement of suspects can be analysed and compared to known individuals on databases. Identification through iris recognition is possible in theory but relies on high quality images of an individual’s pupils, which are hard to obtain in anything outside a laboratory environment.

One simpler approach might be for businesses to review their coverage of cameras outside the entrances to their premises to capture images of visitors as they put on their masks before entering  or removing it as they leave. More consideration should be given to the use of existing cameras in shopping centres, public spaces, high streets and other areas where crime can take place, and through which the movement of criminals can be traced. Yes, we again enter the murky area of civil liberties and privacy, however this could start with better coordination and assimilation of existing images from existing cameras, using analytics and management systems to deliver the evidence required for prosecution.

Looking back over the last few months, we were initially told there was insufficient evidence of their effectiveness for facemasks to be made mandatory, while we were asked to maintain a two-metre social distance. Bars, restaurants and shops invested in the necessary stickers, signs and tape and mapped out the safe distances on the floors of their premises.

Now, only a few months later, facemasks are now mandatory in a number of public spaces – a list which has been expanded only this weekend – while the safe social distance has been reduced to ‘one metre plus’, where one metre is safe if other measures are taken to ensure safety.

Be flexible

Clearly the pandemic presents a challenging situation for those responsible for maintaining public safety, and changes in policy reflect a better understanding of how the virus works. But the moral of the story for organisations is that flexibility is key. As they reopen their premises to workers and customers, they should focus on solutions that are adaptable. Just like those now redundant stickers encouraging people to remain two metres apart, no-one should be investing in technology that might become obsolete in a couple of months.

At Reliance High-Tech, we are laser focused on listening to customer needs and designing for now and the future, not just providing a quick fix for a quick buck.

The situation is so challenging that it often appears overwhelming. Airbridges are being removed just as soon as they are introduced, and some returning from their summer holidays will have to quarantine themselves on their return for 14 days. There is a growing debate over whether pubs, reopened only recently, should close when schools reopen. Localised lockdowns have been implemented across parts of the North West of England. Just keeping on top of the rules is mind-boggling.

While the Government is trying to turn the economy back on and reduce the reliance on furlough and other support schemes, there are many workplaces that simply aren’t able to return due to lockdown issues.

If you are a multi-national business, you will need a flexible and agile system to manage reopening that adapts to rapidly changing dynamics and different rules across the country which may affect your offices around the UK in different ways. Having remote connectivity in your security systems will be key, as will remote setup and commissioning. Analytics that can be adapted for specific purposes will be essential.

I fear the reality is we are still a long way from any kind of normality. Beyond designing for flexibility and investing for the long term, what is the solution? Let me know your views on LinkedIn, come and join one of our webinars, or contact us at info@reliancehightech.co.uk for further information.

Stay safe!