Who would have imagined, at the start of this year that the security industry would play such a significant role in the pandemic recovery? A good number of technologies are now part of the regular discussion security integrators are having with clients, while many manufacturers are working as quickly as possible behind-the-scenes to adapt existing solutions or build new ones.

One of these solutions is video surveillance, and within this category are what we know as thermal cameras. There is a distinct difference, however, between a thermal surveillance camera and a thermal camera that detects elevated skin temperature (EST) — the latter of which is swiftly coming to market for the sole purpose of helping businesses reopen as safely as possible following their shuttering. The idea of selling thermal cameras for businesses to use in screening for people with elevated temperature is rife with opportunity but weighed down with some uncertainties — one of which is a huge influx of new products on the market that seemingly all send a different message about what works best. Security integrators should obtain at least a basic understanding of how EST or “fever cameras” work, as well as what characteristics are important when selecting and deploying an accurate system.

“There’s a tremendous amount of interest, and a lot of people are coming to market with solutions,” says John Kedzierski, senior vice president, Video Security and Analytics, Motorola Solutions, Chicago. “But we think there’s a lot of responsibility with a solution for something like skin-temperature screening, because it can build a false sense of security with people inside a business … Once they walk in, are those people going to behave differently? Are they not going to social distance as much? Are they not going to wear a mask because the camera is at the front door?

“We think there’s a responsibility to make sure that performs well and we take that very seriously. So we’re taking our time to make sure the research behind this product is done right. But we’re confident that we will have a solution (probably later this summer) that will be integrated to the rest of these capabilities,” Kedzierski says, referring to other AI-based solutions Motorola has that enable business owners to measure occupancy, and detect if a patron or employee isn’t wearing a mask or isn’t adhering to social distancing requirements. Motorola calls this a multi-layered approach because it encompasses the integration of all of these solutions on one platform.

Today there may be more than 100 different offerings on the market that claim they can screen for fever, according to Jason Ouellette, senior director of technology business development at Milwaukee-based Johnson Controls. What is important to know, Ouellette says, is when it comes to thermographic temperature detection, there is a global standard — the IEC 80601-2-59: 2017. “This standard is what drives the level of accuracy necessary to obtain what you’ll see in many specifications as a plus or minus 0.3 degrees C level of accuracy or just over 0.5 degrees F. No matter what you’re looking at in terms of thermographic detection that is as good as it gets.

“Secondly, these thermographic solutions are all skin-level temperature rating. Core body temperature can only be achieved with a clinical contact-based thermometer, which is used for official diagnosis. The thermographic solutions are an adjunctive device used for screening purposes and cannot provide the level of accuracy that a contact-based thermometer can,” Ouellette says.

What this means for Johnson Controls and other companies participating in the EST market is how the device is classified — a matter that has generated much confusion over the past few months. Ouellette clarifies by explaining that the thermographic solution Johnson Controls is bringing to market is classified as a medical device.

“We looked at the FDA 510(k) guidelines for thermographic solutions, which clearly state the use cases to which a device would be considered medical. And there are three criteria. The first two have to do with use in healthcare settings, like hospitals and clinics. But the third is if you’re using this device for diagnostic purposes in a non-healthcare setting, and the example they give specifically is a place like an airport.”

Many of these solutions get tied up on the words ‘diagnostic purposes’ and try to stay away from saying that, he explains. “But when the use case itself is using it for screening — at which point you would then send somebody to a next-level screening for confirmation of a fever, which is what most customers are asking for today — clearly by the [U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA)] that makes this a medical device. So we’re not skirting that; our solution is going through UL medical device certification against the IEC 80601-2-59 standard.”

He adds that a concerning element is the FDA’s specific guidance document, released in April, which defines the COVID-19 thermographic device guidance. “Under that directive it gives permission and relaxes the 510(k) approval so that people can start shipping thermograph solutions without the need to apply for a specific emergency use act from the FDA,” he says. “But that guidance … will eventually expire and the FDA will go back to its normal enforcement of the 510(k) once the state of emergency is lifted. And then the question is: of all the products that are going underneath this COVID-19 guidance from the FDA for thermographic solutions, how many of them will actually be able to pass a 510(k) and meet the accuracy standards of a medical device? That is going to be an important consideration of customers who are spending, quite frankly, somewhere between likely $10,000 to $20,000 and more for these solutions.”


Security Integrators Educate the Market

It’s one perspective — albeit, an important one — in a mass of opinions about what is best for customers as they balance the safety and health concerns of their employees, patrons and visitors with the economic need to reopen. Security integrators everywhere are anxious to provide beneficial solutions for their customers, and are moving as quickly as possible, because the window of opportunity may be short. However, the fact that virus outbreaks have been occurring every several years means having a temperature monitoring solution in place is a proactive approach for the future, notes Jennifer Hackenburg, senior product marketing manager, Dahua Technology USA, Irvine, Calif.

The topic of reopening safely is proliferating across the industry, with some of the largest integrators already addressing it on a regular basis. Convergint Technologies, No. 1 on SDM’s Top Systems Integrators Report, in addition to holding a live, online event on the topic, recently published a seven-page whitepaper, “The Roadmap for the Return to Work: A Comprehensive Strategy for COVID-19.” It addresses how to use security technology to manage the transition back to working in group spaces.

The company also has an online document titled, “COVID-19 Update: Considerations for Thermal Camera Accuracy” for helping customers understand how they can deploy EST technology in workplaces; what factors affect accuracy; and potential policy changes that might be required, among other things.

MTS Intelligent Surveillance Solutions, a security integrator in East Brunswick, N.J., is also actively deploying screening solutions that use thermographic radiometric cameras to measure and detect abnormal skin surface temperatures, says Rob Merchant, president. MTS, which has been working with thermal cameras for approximately five years for both surveillance and temperature measurement applications.

“These cameras incorporate a microbolometer, which is a specific type of bolometer that changes electrical resistance when exposed to infrared radiation wavelengths, which can then be measured and processed into a temperature reading,” Merchant says. “Typically, the end users want the solutions to provide an answer: yes or no — does the target have an elevated temperature? They want a rapid measurement, accurate measurement and easy-to-decipher alarm condition.”


Guidance From the FDA

When used correctly, thermal imaging systems generally have been shown to accurately measure someone’s surface skin temperature without being physically close to the person being evaluated, states the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA).

The following two posts by the FDA can be helpful to security integrators selling these systems.

The first is a guidance document, posted for the purpose of helping to expand the availability of telethermographic systems during the public health emergency.


The second post illuminates what the FDA calls “telethermographic systems,” how they work, their benefits and limitations, proper use, and Q&As.



Getting Great Performance

So how fast and easy to use are today’s EST cameras? What is the best way to ensure an accurate reading?

“While thermal cameras can’t detect COVID-19, disease or fever definitively, they are a great front-line screening tool for helping detect those with elevated body temperature above other people that have recently been screened,” explains Chris Bainter, global business development director at FLIR Systems, Wilsonville, Ore. “But in order to be accurate for those types of applications, there are two or three things that are really important.”

Bainter points to resolution, camera stability (meaning the camera measures consistently and accurately over different environmental ranges), focus and distance of the subject from the camera.

Which part of the body is measured varies by manufacturer, with some cameras measuring skin temperature around the eye and others quantifying different areas of the face.

“Some systems measure temperatures on foreheads, but we know and research backs up that those are very susceptible to environmental factors,” Bainter says. He describes a scenario in which a person is wearing a hat and then removes their hat for screening. This would produce a warm band on their forehead that can read hotter and produce a false positive.

“How you take the measurement really impacts the accuracy of the system,” Bainter says. “Studies show the best correlation of core body temperature is actually measuring temperature at the inner corner of the eye, the tear duct.”

For EST applications a blackbody is often used.

"The blackbody instrument is a calibration device," Ouellette explains. “It should come with a calibration certificate to ensure the accuracy of the device and it needs to have calibration maintenance performed to validate the calibration certificate accuracy every 6 to 12 months. When the calibration certificate expires the device needs to be sent off to have the calibration certificate re-issued or to replace the blackbody device” he says.

“A blackbody device is recommended, as it provides a constant reference temperature to assure accurate temperature monitoring during continuous operation,” Hackenburg adds. “To assure the cameras focus on the correct part of the body it is important that the camera and blackbody are mounted at the recommended height and distance. It’s also important that the person faces the camera straight on and removes any facial or head gear such as glasses, hats, hair or anything else that obscures the eye area. Keeping the eye area free from accessories is important because the inner canthus … is the most accurate way of measuring a person’s internal body temperature.”

In addition, it is best for people to walk through a stanchion in a single-file line, Hackenburg notes.

There are a great many manufacturers that now or in the near future will sell thermal cameras for EST applications. Among them are AMETEK Land, CohuHD Costar, Dahua Technology USA, FLIR Systems, Geutebruck USA, Hikvision, Honeywell, Iryx Corp., ISS, Johnson Controls, Mobotix, Motorola Solutions, Speco Technologies and others. Each product is unique.

“Our customers want to bring some peace of mind when the county decides to reopen businesses,” says Tin Eng, product manager at Speco Technologies, Amityville, N.Y. “They understand that fever is not always present in people with the coronavirus, but it brings other levels of security such as the face recognition and no-mask indicator.” He refers to the company’s model O2TML, which in addition to elevated skin temperature, also can detect if the user is wearing a mask, and/or recognizes the face (even with the mask) to gain entry to a facility.


Applications & Demand

Demand for thermal solutions to help businesses reopen safely is soaring. “Our traditional core markets — using temperature measurements for industrial applications — have slowed,” says David Primhak, director of development and product management, AMETEK Land, Dronfield, United Kingdom. “However, there’s been a huge increase in demand for human skin temperature measurement solutions. This isn’t a new application for us, but the scale is unprecedented. We’ve never seen anything like this.”

The company’s new VIRALERT 3 has a blackbody calibration source on the same platform as the camera, so the distance between them is always the same. “This allows simpler installation, and ensures it is easier to use out of the box,” Primhak says. “It also has an integrated visual camera allowing automatic face detection and photo image storage, improving the usability of the system further.”

“We have received inquiries from around the global across a number of sectors,” notes Whitney Hornby, offering manager at Honeywell Building Technologies, Atlanta. “In particular, we’ve seen increased demand for warehousing, airports, logistics operations, healthcare facilities and just about any highly trafficked building.” The company’s new ThermoRebellion incorporates a thermal imaging camera, computer and software to assess core body temperature using a combination of visual and infrared imaging technology and advanced AI algorithms to provide non-invasive, real-time monitoring of people, she explains.

Among the solutions Hikvision, City of Industry, Calif., offers is a handheld thermal camera for detecting elevated skin-surface temperature; and bi-spectrum thermal-optical cameras with analytics that detect elevated skin-surface temperature and the absence of a face mask on people’s faces, describes Doug Gray, senior product marketing manager. Some of the cameras have a built-in speaker with automated voice alarms; a walk-though security metal detector with a thermal-optical camera for temperature and mask screening; and an access control and intercom terminal with optical and thermal cameras for facial configuration and screening for skin-surface temperature and face masks.

The OPTIMA 3210HD Series, from San Diego-based CohuHD Costar, delivers a visible light image with thermal data overlays within a predefined coverage area with smart body detection and altering mechanisms (via hardware and software), explains Jeff Whitney, vice president of marketing. “The camera component provides body temperature monitoring with an accuracy of 0.3 degrees C, with a response time of less than or equal to 30ms. This rapid response means that people don’t have to be stopped while being checked, creating a backlog or queue, and can continue to move smoothly through the inspection area.”

These are just a few of the solutions coming to market recently.

“We do think there’s an obligation for the security industry — for manufacturers, software developers, and those like us — to pivot and provide solutions for the new world,” says Motorola Solutions’ Kedzierski.

Given that many states at the time of this writing were in various stages of allowing businesses to reopen, it seems the industry needs to move quickly to learn, understand and encompass all there is to know about thermal solutions.

“We believe that there is going to be a fundamental change in people’s behaviour in the future,” Primhak predicts. “Even when COVID-19 is under control, there will continue to be an elevated perception of risk to infectious disease. A new, significant market is emerging for this technology, and we think it could be measured in billions of dollars. But most importantly, manufacturers and security integrators have an opportunity to be a big part of the recovery.”


More Online

For more information about thermal cameras, visit SDM’s website where you’ll find the following articles:


“CCTV Camera Market Could Reach $16 Billion by 2029 Due to Growing Need From Pandemic”



“Research Report Shows Industry’s Outlook Continues to Fluctuate as Pandemic Persists”



“Why Thermal Cameras Are Useful Video Surveillance”