Comms to prevent COVID-19 transmission
Written by: Vaughan O’Grady | Published:

The global pandemic has prompted the development of a variety of communications solutions intended to help maintain the health of those in the workplace. Vaughan O’Grady investigates.

Communications vendors have made a variety of valuable contributions during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

These include, for instance, what we may term ‘health tips’, with the likes of Simoco offering advice on the regular cleaning of mobile radio equipment. At the same time, companies have also engaged in charitable support, an example of which is Sepura partner GEG donating vital equipment to an emergency hospital in Italy.

Perhaps the most vital work currently taking place, however, is where companies are using their technological expertise to fight the virus more directly. Much of this is centred around the protection of the workplace itself, whether in terms of the monitoring of the environment/employees, or the dissemination of up-to-the-minute health advice.

Elevated skin temperature

One example of a recent development in this area is Motorola Solutions’ Avigilon H4 ETD product. The solution uses thermal imaging to monitor employees for elevated temperature.

Mark Weatherley is Motorola Solutions’ senior sales director for video security and analytics, UK, Ireland and Benelux. Discussing the history of the product, he suggests it wasn’t an entirely new idea.

“Prior to the pandemic, we actually already offered generic thermal cameras,” he says. “When the implications of COVID-19 hit, however, a significant market need arose for thermal cameras that can detect elevated skin temperatures, something which may be indicative of fever symptoms.”

The company’s team subsequently reassessed its roadmap and leveraged the existing technology, using it to build an enhanced thermal camera. This featured new analytic capabilities enabling a high degree of accuracy and reliability for minute temperature changes. “We were able to develop this solution within approximately four or five months,” says Weatherley.

The H4 Thermal ETD solution combines a thermal camera with a blackbody radiation device in order to provide a low-friction, contactless alternative to traditional screening methods. The individual being scanned will typically be located one and a half to two metres away.

This provides a ‘uniform temperature source’ that acts as an absolute temperature reference point for the thermal camera. If body temperature is higher than a set threshold, additional screening takes place. An important part of this approach, according to Weatherley, is a focus on tear ducts as the particular part of the face most likely to reflect overall body temperature.

Speaking of this, he says: “Improving face detection analytics and enabling them to detect the small tear duct region was challenging. However, we were able to solve this problem, addressing both the speed and accuracy of the scan.”

Since developing the technology, Motorola has also subsequently instigated a partner training programme in order to assist with its roll-out. This consists of webinars, as well as detailed installation and user guides, available on the company’s website for download and reference. The partners then train end-users in order to help them use the system.

While training is required in the first instance, the system itself isn’t actually that complex, at least according to Weatherley. Going into greater detail about this, he says: “One of the advantages of our Avigilon video portfolio is its simplicity, as well as an intuitive interface. End-users who are not familiar with the product are able to be onboarded quickly.

“There are some guidelines to follow when setting up the solution, including both the logistical aspect, as well as configuration regarding temperature values. Once this is complete, however, it requires minimal intervention from the operator.”

In terms of the results, the system enables operators to receive live temperature readings and alerts. Users can also search for ‘temperature events’ in recorded video, and then export the results. The newly launched Avigilon Cloud Services, meanwhile, also enables clients to obtain ‘snapshots’, communicated via graphs or tables for the purposes of reporting.

The Motorola body-screening system has the potential for use in a variety of areas within a building. For Weatherley, however, the lobby is where it will likely prove most useful.

Sites which could potentially benefit from the solution, he says, include factories, food processing plants, retail outlets, schools, corporate offices, sheriff’s offices, airports and border controls.

Furthermore, he believes the camera can also be ‘repurposed’ in a number of ways, for when the crisis finally draws to a conclusion. An obvious post-COVID use, for instance, is to detect intruders.

Speaking of this, he says: “The solution provides reliable analytics in a variety of scenarios where typical ‘visible’ light cameras can struggle. We are continuing to explore expanded application possibilities, to broaden usability across different scenarios.”

Global view of the pandemic

The Motorola thermal imaging product offers a viable, incredibly ‘site specific’ solution to the problem of how to keep employees safe at work.

Another relevant – much more ‘global’ – technology, however, comes from Everbridge. The company has leveraged what it calls its critical event management (CEM) platform in order to develop its new COVID-19 Shield, Return to Work and Contact Tracing solutions.

Giving an overview of the original CEM technology, the Everbridge website states: “Critical Event Management provides an easy way – via an ‘enterprise-wide’ view – to aggregate hundreds of threat data feeds and visualise the intelligence data.” It does this by providing a digital dashboard, with the aforementioned data sources including news feeds, government information, as well as analysis from the company’s team of experts.

Elaborating on the core CEM functionality – in particular how it relates to the new COVID-19 product – the company’s chief customer experience officer, John Maeda, says: “CEM helps organisations identify and assess the severity of events.

“[It can help] determine their relevance to an organisation’s people, assets and supply chains. [It can] automate action-taking in order to mitigate threats, track progress, and analyse performance to improve future response.”

According to Maeda, the aforementioned COVID-19 solutions were quickly developed at the onset of the pandemic, with the aim of providing an additional set of operational use-cases for the existing CEM platform. The first product was a ‘specialised risk intelligence’ package in February, swiftly followed by the COVID-Shield software a month later. The Contact Tracing and Return to Work solutions subsequently arrived in May and July.

Drilling down into the products themselves, their core function is essentially to enable access to a range of Coronavirus-related risk data. This includes a variety of different types of information – for instance, intelligence related to new outbreaks, international travel advice, as well as anticipated potential impacts when it comes to a company’s supply chain.

With that information on board, automated instructions can then be sent to employees – again via the platform – for instance, alerting them to when they are about to enter ‘high-risk’ incident zones. (Types of messaging could include SMS, email, mobile applications, digital signage, and more). At the same time, the system can also help user organisations prepare health advisory messages, work-at-home directives, wellness checks and so on.

Going into greater detail about the technology in terms of monitoring employees themselves, site security and so on, Maeda says: “Our approach leverages location-based data that an organisation typically already collects. That includes things like badge access and meeting calendars, GPS signals and Wi-Fi location monitoring in order to help identify anyone who might have come into contact with someone infected with COVID-19.”

He continues: “Much of what is driving this at the employee end is the use of mobile phones. Mobile remains a very important part of how organisations communicate with their people via our solutions, especially regarding contact tracing.

“At the same time, we also offer contact tracing through alerts driven by wearables such as smart watches. This is especially the case for businesses where employees may not readily have access to a mobile device.”

According to Maeda, a number of verticals are already taking advantage of the technology, including education, retail, manufacturing, as well as – in the US – state and local government. One specific example of this is the University of Denver, which rolled out COVID-19 Shield ahead of its autumn semester. The institution consists of nearly 9,000 students and faculty and administrative staff.

“Since the pandemic began,” he says, “Everbridge customers have used our software to send more than 875 million Coronavirus-related communications.

The CEM platform reaches over 600 million people and currently supports country-wide population alerting deployments in [many] regions of the world.”

Given how obviously ‘customer-focused’ the solution is, you can’t help but wonder at the level of user involvement in relation to its development. With the interview coming to an end, Land Mobile asks if any specific customers were in on the process, and to what degree.

“We involved customers every step of the way, in a number of different areas,” says Maeda. “That included making our wellness checks highly configurable, thereby enabling customers to adapt them based on local health guidelines, or [their own] organisational needs.”

We currently stand at an interesting place with the COVID-19 pandemic, with the UK’s ongoing vaccine roll-out providing cause for genuine optimism. Hopefully – and it is only hope at the moment – we can start to look forward to brighter future.

We can also take comfort from the genuinely impressive range of communications innovations which, in the fullness of time, should help us get back to something approaching normality.

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