Adapting Building Security to Get Back to Work During COVID-19

May 17, 2020
Adapting Building Security to Get Back to Work During COVID-19

The US has so far had well more than one million confirmed cases of COVID-19. It has forced practically every major city to temporarily close businesses to stop its spread. But, as people look to get back to work at physical locations, without proper precautions corporate offices might be amongst the most vulnerable at spreading a second wave of outbreak. 

There are more than 600 skyscrapers in the US, often identified as being at least 40 floors or over 328 feet tall. Overall, there are more than five million commercial buildings and more than 60 percent of US workers are at businesses with more than 100 employees. Large businesses will need to consider new measures to combat future spreading of COVID-19, and to possibly have plans in place for potential future pandemics.

As people get back to work, a major concern is ensuring only healthy workers are returning. Also, there needs to be a way to ensure if someone is infected with coronavirus while at work, that they cannot return to the office until medically cleared. What can businesses do to help ensure this?

Combining Building Security with Health Checkpoints

One might be able to create a process to ensure the health of workers as they return to work. It would require collaboration between building management, building security, tenant management at businesses, and perhaps even affiliated parking structures.

To begin, building management along with office managers might collect basic information about those returning to work. This includes names, company they work for, any contact history with other persons currently or previously infected, current health condition, and so on. This starts the basis for which office managers can verify and approve their employees. People then get assigned credentials for working and the credentials can be stored within a barcode for fast call-up as needed.

This, combined with a health check, can be the basis for creating a mobile application using barcodes for efficient processing. The application’s designers can use color-coding barcodes for access. For example, showing a green barcode easily and quickly informs building security that the person is cleared. Meanwhile, a red barcode can easily show a person is not cleared.

For the barcode to be color coded,  teams would establish standards for what is considered being healthy, or free from being infected or causing infections. So, as mentioned, only the green coded employees can get a pass. Consultation with a health expert is also ideal. In addition, there is an assumption here that COVID-19 testing is not abundantly available. 

There are at least a few considerations for conducting basic health checks. It might start with visual checks, to see if someone has watery eyes, is coughing, and so on. Workers might also use touchless handheld thermometers to check for a fever. Thermal body scanners might also be used. Or, for stronger validation, all of these might be used in concert and more. 

In addition, basic questioning might also help reduce infections. As mentioned, this might include asking people if they have been near anyone else that has been infected. The color coded QR code gets updated on a daily basis. For example, if an employee is showing symptoms or having a fever, the building manager needs to change the employee’s QR code to red.

Another consideration is to initially limit the amount of people allowed to return to the corporate offices. The office manager can coordinate with building management to provide a roster of approved personnel. As more and more people return, the personnel roster can be expanded and health checks accordingly adapted.



Using Barcode Technology

As building workers are tested, they can be medically cleared or medically required to quarantine. Then building management can assign a status to a worker using a QR code. This QR code can then be scanned by building security with a mobile online application. Now, building security can know the health status of a worker in real-time and permit or deny access accordingly.

The use of barcodes is particularly important. This is because barcode technology provides efficiency speeds to, as much as possible, remove queues of people trying to get into their offices. The speed of barcodes is why they are used in high-speed applications, such as inventory conveyor belt systems, and so on.

Depending on the capacity for testing and staffing, such security mechanisms can be enforced daily, every few days or weekly. While not as fail-proof, any level of regular testing, combined with controlled building access, helps reduce the potential for spreading the coronavirus.

Planning and Execution

Building management, building security, corporate officeholders, and other stakeholders should be involved from the beginning. It is essential to get front-line workers involved, to uncover all potential application requirements.

The use of barcodes has another built-in advantage of being a touchless security solution. This, of course, adds an additional layer of health protection compared with needing to swipe a card. But it also means a technical team will be needed to implement the technology.  The technical team will need to collaborate with all previously identified stakeholders.

Getting Going with QR Codes

Normally, there are various things to consider for which barcode symbol to use. This includes deciding between the many options of 1D and 2D barcode types. However, for this application, the QR code is likely the best candidate.

A QR code (abbreviated from Quick Response code) is a two-dimensional barcode made up of black squares. These squares are arranged in another square grid on a white background. This contrast is what makes them more easily scanned or read by a camera, scanner, or other imaging devices.

It can encode a wide variety of data types that include numeric, alphabetic, special characters, and binary data. A lot of information can be revealed with a scan. However, to expedite workflows for this scenario, you can also simplify what a QR code gives back in results. For example, you could design it to return a simple color result, employee name, and company name. This might be a large green or red image to quickly determine, respectively, allow or deny access.

Application Type

It is also probably best for this type of application to not use an app but instead build a web application. This way, you remove the need to build apps to support different Android or iOS platforms, let alone keeping it updated on both platforms. With a proper build, technical teams can more easily and quickly create an online application that works well across any type of mobile browser: Chrome, Safari, Edge, Firefox, and so on. This has a broader more immediate reach amongst users.

Implementing and Adapting as Needed

The next phase of work begins once you have implemented the technology, and that is adapting to the fluid situation as needed. Nothing tests an application like real-world situations do. So, technical teams will need to stay highly available. They will need to stay in constant communication with application users to stay on top of bugs and other necessary fixes in addition to new features they may request to help make things work better.

It is possible to use barcode technology to control building access based on the health status of a worker. This can help control the spread of COVID-19 as people get back to work. Such an application might then be adapted for future use as an additional layer of building security. It can also be the basis for future planning and implementation should another pandemic arise.