The lingering anxieties of 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic have forever linked physical security with healthy buildings. As CDC guidelines ease and vaccines become widely available in the United States, businesses plan their return to normal operations. But end users agree that this return to business-as-usual can only occur if they can ensure healthy workspaces for all employees and visitors.

Some common methods of protecting on-site staff that I’ve seen include:

  • Enhanced cleaning and disinfection of the workplace.
  • Providing face masks and other PPE like gloves and gowns.
  • Changing shifts to follow social distancing rules.
  • Conducting employee COVID-19 screenings and assessments (e.g. attestation questionnaires and temperature screening).
  • Installing physical or structural barriers (e.g. sneeze guards and barriers).
  • Improving facility ventilation rates.

To safely return to offices, management should establish an inter-departmental response team representing every area of the business. This team’s goal should be to develop common sense guidance and transparent leadership that provides clear policy and communication with employees. The resulting healthy, safe and secure environment should include as many touchless elements as possible, reasonable space between individual workspaces, health-focused visitor policies and easy-to-use health screening and self-reporting.

Security system integrators will play a key role in helping clients implement end-to-end healthy building initiatives. System integrators work to understand each business’s unique needs as the pandemic evolves, as well as modern solutions for workplace health, safety, security and operations. Before the pandemic, secure access for enterprises focused on rapid throughput, analytics and automation. While these remain important to security and operations, the demand is now for health/safety-centric priorities: touchless access control, advanced analytics for documenting social distancing, people counting and tracking and thermal cameras for elevated body temperature detection. When combined, these features create a holistic solution that safeguards every person’s health.


Don’t Compromise On Throughput

The growing integration of illness prevention technologies with analytics is advantageous for end users who would otherwise face severe throughput delays at building entrances. Imagine a large manufacturing or oil and gas operation that handles multiple shift worker changes per day. The labor-intensive process of vetting 300 or more workers through a secured entrance with manual temperature screening could take hours. The screening bottlenecks could also translate into hours of lost productivity and many thousands of dollars of lost profit.

Security solutions that can accommodate the new health and safety mandates and maintain high throughput are already the foundation of future access control systems. The wealth of technology add-ons that are in place to monitor temperatures, mask wearing and social distancing should not inhibit your entrance process for employees or visitors. Use automation and analytics to keep people moving and accurately screen for illnesses at user-friendly entrances. Whether you choose walk-through monitors with LED screens with reminders to wear a mask or automated screening kiosks for measuring body temperatures, look for solutions that boast high speed, accuracy and ease of use.


How to Leverage Data Analytics

Smart building solutions are non-negotiable in the era of healthy access. Advanced analytics immediately increase the “smartness” of a building, and now analytics are capable of helping management make decisions about health, safety, security and productivity in one place. Unlike small businesses that use manual logs to track temperatures or capacities, enterprises need software analytics to log temperature screening data and count the number of people who enter and exit a building. All of these are valuable solutions depending on each business’s unique needs, and the “right” software for you is the one that adapts best to your specific use case.

Modern software goes beyond simply tracking and auditing data. If a business needs data for contact tracing, meaningful analytics can perform this critical task for you. Analytics can also detect people who are not wearing masks so that operators can warn them instantly. Investing in software that offers deep analysis can help aggregate health and safety data that helps enterprise management make proactive decisions at the first sign of potential illness.


Automation Remains a Key Business Driver

Two years ago, security leaders regarded automation as one of the driving forces in the industry. While automation is still essential to enterprise security, the push to automate is here now because no one wants to touch anything in public. Management has invested in new equipment, more hours for HR and security staff and a complete restructuring of their businesses to handle work-from-home and social distancing — but these costs are not sustainable. Automation is fast, accurate and reliable, but most importantly, it can bring these costs back down through a one-time investment.

Instead of hiring extra staff to screen temperatures, administer health questionnaires and check for masks, opt for a self-contained, automated solution like a kiosk, camera or walk-through scanner to do the same job. Automated solutions can do all this in less time, mitigating bottlenecks in small waiting areas or lobbies that can't handle social distancing rules. Automated solutions like face recognition and thermography are now mainstream. More manufacturers offer integration with health questionnaires completed on a mobile app or with voice recognition to reduce the number of shared surfaces touched to gain access. These solutions satisfy daunting needs by using common sense, so businesses and their staff can get back to work with as little anxiety as possible.


The New Normal Seems Normal Now

Despite the CDC's guidance to loosen mask mandates and social-distancing protocols, staff and client comfort levels dictate every organization's approach to COVID-19 recovery. For many, going back to the normal of 2019 will be difficult. Facility directors and business owners should expect the new normal of masks and social distancing to remain in place for at least the short term.

Because staff returning to offices want to feel certain that their employers are doing their best to protect them, face masks and questionnaires will remain critical in maintaining a healthy and secure business until society knows more about long-term immunity and new virus variants. Intelligent security solutions can authenticate people and detect face masks faster than human security personnel while offering analytics to help management make decisions based on captured data. That is why mask detection and health analytics will remain a critical part of security strategies through 2021 at a minimum.

A healthy and secure building is only as safe as its integrated solutions. Consider the intention of your system for access control, time tracking or visitor screening when looking for your next healthy building solution to get the most out of your investment — and ensure the health of your staff and visitors for years to come.