Adapting Security Technology

Adapting Security Technology

Innovations that will stand us in good stead for years to come

Necessity is the mother of invention, especially when it comes to battling COVID-19. We have tried common sense practices like frequent hand washing, masking, and social distancing. Yet the scourge is still among us. With school districts eager to get students back in the classroom, and hospitals desperate to curtail the surge of COVID patients, it is clear they could use a helping hand to return to some semblance of “normal.”

Where might that helping hand come from? Network security technology. The same technology used to monitor and secure a campus can also be used to address the variety of problems posed by the presence of COVID-19. After all, protection is protection – whether you are trying to stop an intruder or a virus.

The beauty of these investments is that even though they’re being used to combat COVID-19, the technology will continue providing safety and security value to a campus – whether an educational institution or medical complex – long after the virus has run its course.

Two application perspectives: traditional security and COVID
Surveillance. Most schools and hospitals install video cameras to keep an eye on who enters and exits the campus. They want to know if someone is suspiciously loitering around the property or trying to sneak into restricted areas. Those same cameras can be used for contact tracing, determining who might have been within three feet of or interacted with a COVID-19 positive individual. Since we know close proximity contributes to the spread of the disease, early identification and isolation of others who might have been exposed is critical to stemming a massive population outbreak.

Remote monitoring. Many hospitals remotely monitor patients so that medical staff can safely oversee multiple patients without compromising quality care. During COVID, virtual monitoring limits the spread of infection by reducing the number of times staff need to enter an ill patient’s room. This also decreases consumption of personal protection equipment (masks, gowns and gloves) per shift, a significant cost savings.

Touchless entry. Hands-free entry systems have become a ubiquitous convenience. A video camera or sensor detects motion and automatically opens and slowly closes the door or triggers an alert for a remote person in authority to activate the automated door mechanism. People swipe a keycard to unlock the door themselves. During COVID, many schools and hospitals are taking hygienic access to another level with keyless entry systems that can be triggered by a QR code loaded on a smartphone, thus eliminating the need to touch virus-laden surfaces like door handles and keypads.

Replacing traditional doors with contactless power doors, like those used at handicapped entrances, can be especially useful in elementary school settings where students typically cluster in groups and take turns holding the door for classmates going in and out for recess. In entrances where additional security is an issue, campuses can integrate audio-video intercoms to enable visitors to be vetted for COVID exposure before activating the power door.

Intelligent audio. These systems provide a mechanism for conveying timely communication – live or pre-recorded messages – whether directing a trespasser to vacate the premises, announcing emergency evacuation procedures, or simply paging someone to report to a certain location. During COVID, many institutions integrating intelligent audio systems with video cameras to automatically trigger prerecorded health information to people entering the building, such as a reminder to mask up and use the provided hand sanitizer.

Especially in schools where students tend to cluster, administrators can program a pre-recorded message to play throughout the day reminding everyone to follow CDC guidelines, wear their masks correctly, and keep three feet apart from one another.

Analytics. Many institutions enhance campus safety and security with the use of video and audio analytics. Video analytics provide early detection and proactively trigger alerts to potential security threats like motion, loitering, and perimeter intrusion or track operational issues like queue wait times or occupancy capacity. There are audio analytics that listen for sounds of aggression, breaking glass, weapons fire, and other acoustic signature that indicate danger to individuals or property. During COVID, analytics could detect whether persons are wearing masks or maintaining social distancing.

In school cafeterias, for example, video analytics can alert cafeteria monitors to intercede when too many students are sitting closely together or trigger an audio message to students to move to separate tables. If a student has tested positive for COVID, intelligent search analytics can be used to pull up video footage the shows everyone on campus they recently met, so they could be informed and tested.

Radar. Radar is also gaining traction as a warning system for afterhours intrusions into areas, such as athletic fields and hospital rehabilitation pools. The technology is often integrated with surveillance cameras to track trespassers or wandering patients to prevent safety and liability issues. When tied to intelligent audio systems, they can trigger a specific targeted message depending on the event – whether a warning to vacate the premises or an alert to staff that a patient has exited their room. In hospital settings, radar is often used on helipads to warn of any obstructions needing to be cleared before a helicopter arrives. During COVID, radar could detect someone approaching a school or hospital and trigger a message directing him or her to a single point of entry where they can be screened for health issues and issued a mask before entering the building.

Financing Technology Investments during COVID
With so many school districts and hospitals strapped for funds, financing any new technology investments might seem out of reach. However, in 2021 the federal government passed two economic stimulus packages – the CARES Act and the American Rescue Plan Act, which earmarked funding to schools and hospitals that can be used to pay for these types of projects.

Schools would need to submit a proposal to their respective state’s Department of Education, while hospital would need to apply to their respective state’s Department of Public Health. The important thing to remember when applying for these grants is to frame the proposal in terms of how the investment would help your institution prevent or mitigate the spread of COVID.

Schools and hospitals can apply for these monies through December 2024 or until their state’s allocation has been exhausted.

This article originally appeared in the September / October 2021 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.

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