COVID-19: The Second Wave

COVID-19: The Second Wave

Fighting the pandemic doesn’t require investments in short-term solutions

The second wave is here, and people are tired of the pandemic as we head into what will most likely be a long, dark winter with COVID-19. Campuses of all sizes need to function at some level or risk an uncertain future. News of vaccines brings hope, but the reality is most people and organizations are going to be in vulnerable positions this winter. As a business or school struggling with lost revenues and unforeseen costs, it’s hard to be enthusiastic about spending money on COVID-19 related protections and solutions when we hear that vaccines are coming. What will happen to big dollar COVID-19 capital expenses once the virus is in the rear-view mirror?

The good news is that you can invest in solutions you need today to help with social distancing, occupancy monitoring and face mask detection. Once the virus is behind us, these same technologies can take on new and additional roles to protect your campus from different threats while giving you actionable data on the day to day operations and management of your organization. This is particularly true with regard to the latest AItechnology inside security cameras.

These new cameras have evolved to become data sensors that record much more than images. AI cameras can detect objects such as people and vehicles. They can store attributes about those objects such as colors of vehicles or clothing, they can tell if someone is wearing a mask or even if they’re wearing it incorrectly.

They can sense direction and count those objects. This makes them true data-gatherers which can give you enhanced insight about the flow of people and vehicles around your campus. People are used to seeing security cameras in their daily lives, so they are an accepted and innocuous part of the world today.

When COVID-19 hit, companies scrambled to come up with technological solutions to help, but it’s worth noting that intelligent AI-based cameras were really quick to evolve and step up to the task. They could be easily programmed to look for masks, since they already understood what a face and torso looked like. It was easy to accurately count people and warn when occupancy limits where reached in high traffic areas. This is because with AI (or machine learning), we can train cameras to recognize whatever we need them to see. Today, it masks, but tomorrow it could be something else.

As schools and businesses seek to bring people back to brick and mortar establishments, it’s going to be important to make customers, students and teachers feel comfortable, in addition to simply following guidelines. Customers will have to feel that it’s worth going out, versus shopping on-line. For many, that comfort might in part be derived from visible occupancy monitoring efforts and automated voice-down messages when people aren’t wearing masks or keeping their distance. Being proactive and visible in our efforts to protect one another can reduce anxieties and help everyone be mindful and adopt good habits.

We’ve seen how some businesses have closed all entrances but one and stationed employees outside the store to screen and count customers wishing to come inside. It is a costly use of employee resources, it risks confrontation, the counting can be highly inaccurate, and it doesn’t exactly welcome people with open arms. Businesses which offer online services have even less traffic, so having an employee screening the few people who still require walk-in services is a poor use of their limited resources. Having multiple entrances at the premises only compounds the problem.

Schools are particularly challenging, since the density of students in any particular area can be hard to manage. It could be easy to overload any mask detection system, which could result in continuous voice alerts that eventually get ignored and not taken seriously by students and staffalike. Successfully using technology to help enforce guidelines has to be well thought out and can only be only one part of a comprehensive plan for K-12 and higher education.

How can the latest security technology be used to help campuses remain open? Keeping people mindful of good habits is one of the most important things we can do when it comes to reducing risk of infection. The latest AI-based cameras can detect masks and count people entering and exiting premises from multiple entry points. They can drive displays and play messages to proactively inform customers, students and staffabout current occupancy levels and whether they should enter or wait. This frees stafffrom screening and counting duties, and most importantly, it reduces friction between employees and customers concerning policy compliance. Having a “voice from above” asking people to wear a mask helps to remove the burden from staff.

At minimum, it provides an alternative focus for any customer frustration. All of this can be achieved “on the edge” without complicated servers and extra equipment. These new cameras are the smartest and most capable we have ever seen. Their ability to be updated and evolve over time makes them especially attractive as an investment with the potential to pay for itself many times over during its service life.

Previously, counting people with cameras required a dedicated camera facing downwards to count people’s heads. This meant that the camera was only useful for that one task. The latest AI cameras can be mounted in a traditional way that views the torso and face. They can accurately count people for occupancy and social distancing, detect masks, and be useful for surveillance all at the same time.

Smart Tech Investments Should Pay Dividends in a Post-pandemic World

With businesses, schools and hospitals struggling to allocate their limited budgets responsibly, it’s imperative that any expenses serve their long-term needs. Whenever possible, technology investments should support multiple uses. Any security technology deployed for the pandemic needs to be visible and immediately effective to help people to do the right thing.

After the immediate threat from COVID- 19 is gone, cameras and supporting infrastructure can continue to evolve to support operations and business intelligence needs beyond pure surveillance. Modern IP-based cameras offer much more than simply recording video. These comprehensive IoT sensors, coupled with a capable VMS, can be used to measure and analyze buying patterns and operations flow. They can be tied to POS systems and marketing tools. They are continually evolving to be an indispensable part of operational intelligence for any organization.

Like our smartphones, apps can be developed to address specific needs when they arise. If another pandemic occurs, these devices can be ready to adapt by providing touchless access for staffand again reminding people of their responsibilities. They may even help with contact tracing by generating reports about exposure to people who have become ill.

As bad as this pandemic has been, it is important to remember that some good tools have come out of it that will help campuses get back to some semblance of normalcy in the months ahead.

This article originally appeared in the January February 2021 issue of Campus Security Today.


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