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Trusting in Tech: Solutions for Saving our Security Officers

31 May 2020

THE PRIME Minister recently announced the gradual relaxation of lockdown. Under what conditions do we ‘reboot’ the UK and move people back to work, while at the same time maintaining safety? How do we keep the Coronavirus infection rate under control, and what role can technology play in the fight against the virus? Alistair Enser offers his considered opinions.

Clearly, there is light at the end of the tunnel, but at the time of writing there have been nearly a quarter of a million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the UK, while nearly 35,000 people have lost their lives.

Other statistics are also beginning to emerge: According to the Office of National Statistics, and as reported by Security Matters, male security officers suffer one of the highest death rates in the UK from COVID-19, with 45.7 deaths per 100,000. This is a tragedy. Indeed, it’s an even higher death rate than the healthcare workers who have deservedly gained the nation’s praise in the fight against the disease.

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There may be socio-economic, environmental and other related factors that influence this shockingly high rate, as the ONS study did not adjust for factors such as ethnic group, place of residence and income group, etc. Regardless, security officers form a cohort of people at significant risk from the disease. Whether they catch COVID-19 at work or carry it to work, technology could absolutely reduce the risks.

It’s true that there are situations where there is no replacement for a well-trained security officer. Equally, there are many situations where technology could easily provide or supplement some of these requirements and not wantonly place people at risk. These technologies in particular draw on recent innovations in analytics, whereby the usage of access control, building occupancy and behavioural analysis of people on camera can often provide a cost-effective alternative to ‘feet on the street’ through intelligent situational analysis. This may not replace security officers, but could certainly reduce the numbers required and the exposure levels.

While the pandemic has brought disruption and hardship, it has also afforded us a unique opportunity to re-focus, re-address and learn. We owe it to those who have suffered to look anew at all areas of how we work. As the Government-imposed lockdown is eased, we need to plan for the return to work and ensure that we don’t put people at risk when there are alternatives.

Tracking the virus

That return is contingent on the ability to trace people who are infected and track their contact with others. Initial tests of the NHS App on the Isle of Wight highlighted significant challenges in doing so, however, and has revealed usability issues. 

It’s great that we are looking towards tech for the answers, and no stone should remain unturned, but there is no silver bullet and consideration has to be given to how the app is used in order for the data it delivers to be meaningful and useful. At present, there are some creases that need to be ironed out. The app appears to have created false positives, for example, when people have been reported to be in close physical proximity, but were actually separated by a wall.

Further, a number of users have found their devices are incompatible with the app due to the age of their operating system or the device itself, even when only three years old. As a result, we are currently some way from the 60% threshold cited as being statistically necessary for the app to be most effective.

Existing solution

Meanwhile, alternative and complementary technologies already exist to help control infection transmission and exposure. These can even help maintain social distancing in the workplace and public spaces. There is also a lot of talk around thermal detection at the moment and how it can assist in the identification of those who might have the virus. At Reliance High-Tech, we are focused on its use as part of a suite of measures, but I stress that it must be employed as part of a package of measures in order to realise a good operational procedure, in the correct context, and with realistic expectations.

We are actively rolling out solutions to clients that integrate all of these worlds. For example, we have technology that detects when people are less than two metres apart to create a voice warning or other event. Not only does the technology detect this unsafe distancing, but it can also ascertain how long the exposure was and help build a risk profile of the encounter.

When combined with temperature detection technology, linked to HR records or other data sources that capture data points such as room occupancy, we can then start to build an accurate picture of how people are interacting in the workplace or potentially a public space.

Of course, we must always consider privacy, data security and data protection, as well as the challenge of how to act on that information and put it to meaningful use. Otherwise, it is just data.

Alistair Enser is CEO at Reliance High-Tech