What many security professionals are yet to realize is how COVID-19 has led to fundamental changes in security policies that will ultimately affect them. The introduction of medical technology, such as thermal scanners, to access control implementations is a new phenomenon.

The coronavirus pandemic has propelled a new requirement onto organizations to conduct health checks – specifically, body temperature checks – at the door before an employee, contractor or visitor is given access to a building. A fever could be an indication that the person is infected with COVID-19. When a fever is detected, the person’s card (employee badge) will not open the door.

Integrating thermal detection and access control

The sudden, unexpected need of thermal detection to be integrated into physical access control is emerging as the “new normal.” Convergence of these technologies are rapidly being considered a best practice, as organizations look to reopen in compliance with public health guidance, prioritising the protection of people’s health.

One company that is dealing with this new challenge to integrate health monitoring technologies with access control is Open Options, a provider of software-based, open platform access control solutions. The company is actively advising its customers and partners on preparations for reopening buildings and campuses with the merging of temperature checks and access control. 

“We have been having discussions with a variety of our customers, who are being forced to completely alter their business practices,” said Chuck O’Leary, President, Open Options.

No longer is access control just about getting people through a door

“No longer is access control just about getting people through a door, with the familiar ‘who, when and where’ aspects of physical access. Now, it’s also about ensuring the health of people.”

New vetting processes

In addition to adding thermal detection – essentially acting as a touchless thermometer to take people’s temperature one person at a time – a new vetting process is now being mandated or, in some places, at least strongly recommended.

For example, the visitor management system collects data on an individual and asks a list of questions that can be used for vetting possible risks for carriers of COVID-19 -- questions such as “Have you been outside the Country recently?” and “Have you been in close proximity of someone who is known to have COVID-19?” The pre-authorization process for access also now requires verification that the person is wearing a mask. 

The president of Open Options also stated that there are in-depth discussions happening in the security industry about the use of mobile devices and Bluetooth for contact tracing and monitoring where people go in a building.

Contact tracing

If an infected person somehow gains access to the building (perhaps due to being asymptomatic), a company would still be able to “contact trace” every interaction that the infected person had with others in the building in previous days. A mobile device can act as a “beacon” that is tracked. Information from it can be piped in through the access control software platform, according to O’Leary.

This information becomes highly relevant for facilitating quarantines and other healthcare actions in order to limit or stop an outbreak in a building. 

Furthermore, how people interact with card readers at doors is expected to change. Employees and visitors are likely to want to avoid touching a keypad reader or tapping a card on a reader in fear of the potential risk of catching the coronavirus. Legacy readers with keypads and older, inefficient technology will likely need to be replaced in the post-COVID-19 world.

Rethinking access control

“You may want to consider more sophisticated technologies that will save time, money and hassle in the long run,” added O’Leary.

Rethinking access control will take much more than just putting a bottle of hand sanitiser on the front desk of a lobby.

Rethinking access control will take much more than just putting a bottle of hand sanitiser on the front desk

Software becomes integral as the cohesive “glue” to tie it all together for security management, according to the head of Open Options. Customization, which generates the need for more professional services, is expected to increase. A robust set of APIs become useful to rapidly meet integration requirements.

“Being able to integrate with other technologies, such as thermal scanners, contact tracing apps or contactless technology, is important,” said O’Leary. “While a proprietary approach locks a customer in, an open approach is more adaptable as policies and protocols continue to change and evolve with mitigation strategies for COVID-19.”

Four tips to handle the new complexity

Based on the training programs that it is offering to integrators and end-user customers on how to prepare for reopening buildings and do it safely and responsibly, Chuck O’Leary offered four tips for security professionals to consider when moving forward amid the “new normal” in a post-COVID world.

  • Communicate realistic expectations that all employees, contractors and visitors are now expected to participate in a pre-authorization health check before getting access to the building.
  • Create an environment where there is some level of comfort and assurance that the location is at a lower risk for spreading the virus.
  • Realize that your organization can no longer operate with people going in and out freely.
  • Stay vigilant about cybersecurity, using encrypted technology to prevent hacking of new devices, such as thermal scanners, connected to your organization’s network.

“There is now a shift away from an open campus environment. You don’t get to just walk into a building anymore,” said the president of Open Options. “You aren’t free to walk around a corporate campus, bypassing health checks and entering buildings like you used to.”

You don’t get to just walk into a building anymore

The new convergence of access control and thermal detection to comply with new security policies and public health guidelines is reshaping the experience of walking into a building.

Having an authorized credential, such as a plastic card, a keyfob or a smart phone credential, is not enough anymore. Now, not only do they have to wear a mask, but people also need to prove they don’t have a fever for their credential to work at all.

Security professionals likely never guessed they’d one day need to oversee health checks, too. 

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