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Protecting our new normal: Using an arsenal of tools against COVID-19

August 15, 2022 by Alistair Enser

With lockdown at various stages across the globe, many organisations are seeking ways to keep their building occupants safe from the risk of catching COVID-19. Because one of the main symptoms of the virus is a high temperature, some business leaders have turned to thermal detection technology as a potential solution to track people’s temperatures as they enter and walk around a building in order to detect possible infections before they spread widely to all occupants.

Consequently, some manufacturers and installers of such technology are using the current situation as an opportunity to make some bold claims about the abilities of their equipment. Although technology can certainly assist with today’s challenges, some of the claims are grossly inaccurate. To separate fact from fiction, this piece sets out the ways thermal imaging and associated technologies and processes can aid in the battle against COVID-19 – and the ways they cannot.

Overcoming COVID-19 challenges

There are common goals that all business leaders are seeking during this time. Sustaining and growing the business is a priority across the board, as is ensuring the health and wellbeing of employees and creating a safe working environment.

Many companies have withstood the immediate crisis, pivoting operations to remote working, and implementing safety measures such as extra sanitisation and PPE (personal protective equipment). Focus now falls on moving forward, thriving in the next phase of COVID recovery while reassuring employees that they will be safe, and navigating heightened social anxiety. Globally, common threats that are concerning leaders are:

  • Concern about a new wave of infection and how to keep the workforce safe.
  • Navigating the economic downturn by building greater resilience and agility into operations.
  • Re-engaging customers and pursuing new revenue streams through innovation.

Reflecting this, 75% of Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) plan to invest more in workplace safety measures such as thermal detection, COVID testing and face masks.

Seizing the opportunity

Tapping into this growing market are a host of vendors – some of which are taking the opportunity to quickly sell solutions that are not fit-for-purpose. According to London Trading Standards (LTS), over 6.5 million sub-standard facemasks and 8,000 counterfeit hand sanitisers were seized at Heathrow Airport over a three-month period at the start of the pandemic.

This unethical behaviour has unfortunately entered the security industry. Thermal detection cameras are being miss-sold and marketed as a way to quickly get a workplace back up and running. Searching for ‘fever detection cameras’ on Google will unearth well over a million results and numerous companies that offer this ‘service’. There are also numerous reports of fake marketing, dubious performance claims, misinformation, and inaccuracies – all designed to increase sales. Due to the life-and-death matter at hand, such distortion must be tackled head-on.

Not a silver bullet

Despite what the marketing might claim, thermal imaging cameras are not a failsafe way of identifying people with elevated skin surface temperatures.

There are a number of reasons why. Firstly, thermal imaging is an imprecise way to scan crowds of people for their temperature. It also doesn’t measure inner body temperature. There are environmental and operational factors to consider, such as ambient temperature, warm-up times, the flow of people traffic and individuals wearing glasses (that can significantly impact results).

As Deputy chief medical officer for England, Dr Jenny Harries explains, Temperature screening provides little more than a “reassurance mechanism” for the public’ and goes on to comment that even with ‘reliable kit’ the chance of detecting someone is ‘very small’.

Then there’s a problem posed by Coronavirus itself – not every infected person will have a fever. Those that do will often develop it after being infected (and spreading the virus) for several days. A recent study found that 50% of COVID-positive patients are asymptomatic. Virologist and epidemiologist, Dr Joseph Fair elaborates, “The vast majority of cases are mild to moderate, and then we have asymptomatic people as well that are very infectious.”

Echoing Dr Harries, Dr Fair goes on to say that temperature checks are done out of an ‘abundance of caution’. He says, “They’re mostly a visual measure that help to make you feel better. They give you the impression that you’re going through some kind of screening, but they have very limited effectiveness.”

Working in tandem with other tools

Thermal detection technology does, however, have a place as part of broader security infrastructure to identify people with raised temperatures. But it cannot be used alone.

We also recommend that any technical implementation is paired with an associated operating process to work effectively. People management, track and trace, body-worn video, access control and video analytics can work in tandem with thermal detection to protect employees and support social distancing measures.

The Reliance approach

With this in mind, the Reliance High-Tech approach to combating COVID-19 covers three areas:

  • Prevent – creating and leveraging technologies that provide the insights needed to make informed decisions.
  • Protect – using technologies that protect employees and businesses from emerging threats (alongside COVID this could be cyber, electronic, and other physical risks).
  • Communicate – integrating and leveraging technologies that establish end-to-end communication for first responders and the public.

Prevent

Standard security operational procedures cannot protect against COVID-19, so a more tailored approach is required. The risk of Coronavirus is not visible to the human eye, necessitating advanced technologies that can identify potential contact points, contamination and spread.

Questions to ask yourself

  • Who is entering and visiting our buildings?
  • How can we understand the risk profile?
  • How do we educate and ensure our standards are communicated to this user group
  • Are there ways in which we can mitigate the risk to our visitors and staff?

Employees, contractors and visitors are the people most likely to be entering your site and each group presents a different risk profile. Employees are the ones with the highest governance and oversight, employers have a duty of care to them throughout their workday and this means their risk of catching COVID during work hours is therefore controlled. It is outside of work hours that pose a greater risk.

Likewise, contractors are an invested group with a significant level of vetted trust. There is a measured duty of care towards contractors and limited governance to control their level of risk while working within a client’s building.

Visitors pose the highest risk, with no understanding of their trust levels or motivations, and little-to-no governance. There is an implied duty of care while on-premises, but limited protections when off-site.

Therefore, alongside technology, there must be consistent communication and education of a building’s standards of protection and prevention to all parties. Pre-visit questionnaires can provide some protection and forewarning, alongside dedicated e-learning for employees and contractors.

Protect

Protecting the workplace environment requires the adaptation of technologies to detect risks early-on. The ability to detect and make decisions based on what the technology solution is showing is key alongside other measures like track and trace.

Physical protection such as face masks and visors may be considered – as long as employees are effectively trained in its appropriate use. The same applies to new processes and technologies implemented, indeed, the education surrounding such solutions is as critical as the roll-out itself.

Questions to ask yourself

  • How can we identify people who may be entering our sites with symptoms?
  • How do our staff detect and intercept visitors with minimal exposure?
  • How do we protect our teams from physical impact and from any accusation?

While headlines might be promoting the use of ‘Fever Screening Technologies’ to identify people with COVID-19, this terminology can be misleading. Many technologies have been repurposed to mitigate the risk of infection – with varying degrees of effectiveness. Investing in a quality thermal camera solution can assist with some aspects of COVID protection when used in conjunction with controlled access and edge-level automation (which can provide a strong level of protection for site-based teams).

Ensuring that the correct technology is deployed is key. Different tools will be best suited to different scenarios such as the use of body-worn cameras to deal with difficult confrontations to defuse potentially volatile situations. Knowing how and when to use different technologies and how to deal with each situation is as important as the technology itself.

We recommend that temperature testing is used in combination with a suite of other solutions to improve accuracy, increase situational awareness and help with decision-making.

Thermal cameras

Thermal cameras are a well established, robust technology that can be used to detect temperature variances with varying degrees of accuracy (depending on factors like the environment, distance, and model type). They detect the difference in temperature between a fixed object and a baseline temperature such as room temperature (of course, if this fluctuates often then this can impact accuracy).

For temperature detection on individuals, the best results are obtained from the innermost section of the eye by the bridge of the nose (the Medial Canthus). Likewise, the camera set-up should be front-facing.

This is not new technology and has not been medically approved – therefore, thermal cameras cannot detect fevers or determine if an individual has COVID-19. There can be additional accuracy issues when individuals are wearing face coverings and glasses. Some models can recalibrate automatically when an internal temperature sensor is included with the camera model. For those without this, recalibration using a ‘Black Body Generator’ will be required.

Effective thermal camera models offer a high level of accuracy (+/- 0.5 degrees) with a standard set-up, however, accuracy can be increased by using fixed additional equipment (such as extra cameras) to between +/-0.3 – 0.1 degrees.

Additional technology

To enable the decision-making process, protect employees, and improve accuracy, additional technology is needed.

Video analytics: advanced video analytics can carry out rapid track and trace, flag unusual activity, and help adherence to social distancing measures. Directional warnings, dispersal announcements, and visual displays can be used to support compliance. It can also increase the awareness of contact points to sanitise and be used to understand the flow of people throughout a building and any route diversions needed.

Occupancy estimators: occupancy sensors and video analytic sensors can be integrated with camera systems to estimate the number of people within a designated room. This number can be displayed outside to let people know whether or not they can enter or used to determine cleaning frequency. It can also integrate with access control systems to deny additional entries once a set number is reached.

Door readers and other access control: automatic door openers and contactless sensors will replace the need for physical cards and pressing buttons or locks to enter. Digital cards can also help with wayfinding via an app, directing people to the quietest routes. As they walk along a route, doors can also be opened automatically further reducing the touch points required.

Body-worn video: body worn video can also help to diffuse difficult situations where individuals become hostile once identified as having a raised temperature. Emergency situations can be automatically recorded with GPS tracking for quick intervention if needed.

Communicate

Open communication between teams, employees, and with first responders is essential to protecting people from COVID-19. The pandemic has caused many leaders to reevaluate the best means of communicating with employees, visitors, customers and other stakeholders – both in terms of speed and efficiency, as well as costs (given tightening budgets). Highly adaptive solutions are needed to increase awareness and compliance while remaining cost-effective and relevant to the times.

E-learning, simulated scenarios and other learning resources can help employees and contractors get up-to-speed with new social distancing requirements and workplace measures. Employees can also become skilled first responders with the appropriate training and equipment, providing dynamic support to all visitors and customers.

Ensuring people are aware of a critical message, such as a route redirection due to overcrowding, is a high-level priority that’s challenging traditional delivery methods like Intranets and company-wide emails. Integration with mass communication technology is needed to ensure messages get across quickly, accurately, and can adapt to changing situations.

Simultaneously, security teams must understand what’s occurring on every site, for optimal decision-making and protection. Cloud or on-premise solutions can connect central operation centres with on-site happenings and threat insights can help teams take proactive action to mitigate risk and respond quickly to on-site emergencies. Mobile apps can provide on-the-ground insight, wherever employees are located across the globe.

Looking to the future

Until a treatment or vaccine is developed, business leaders can only rely on addressing specific situations as-and-when they occur. For instance, they can proactively protect their employees and visitors with the best technology currently available, integrating various parts of a security system together to reduce risk as part of a wider operational and escalation strategy.

The coming months and years will see the consequences of COVID-19 fully come to light. Organisations are facing unparalleled uncertainty, plus the incoming global recession and black swan events. This underpins the need for robust, informed investment in technology solutions that can pivot to changing demands.

It also requires a shift in culture, where people, processes and technology can change at pace; One where misinformation cannot be readily spread due to greater education, awareness and an industry that moves towards offering sound advice; Where technology is expected to work in conjunction with other solutions, processes, and strategies, to find the optimum mix to protect people – instead of claiming a sole panacea to the crisis of the day.

CTA: Reliance High-Tech offers a number of different solutions and integrations including thermal imaging, body-worn camera systems, video analytics and communication tools, to help your organisation prepare for the next phase of COVID recovery.

Get in touch with our experts today to discuss your unique needs and get advice on the best set-up, click here.