Safe and Smart Buildings: Five “Measurable” Actions Businesses Must Consider Now to Reopen
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced a complete re-evaluation of our physical plants, and even the definition of a building itself. Consumers and workers won’t set foot in facilities they don’t believe to be safe. Going forward, enterprises must take unprecedented measures. Fortunately, the technology is there to make it happen.
As the world cautiously reopens for business with the lifting of shelter-in-place orders, organizations shoulder a heavy burden. They must design and operate safe, healthy environments for employees, customers, support personnel and others — anybody entering a store, office building, factory or other structure must not only be safe, but feel safe.
The latter is extremely important; regardless of pronouncements by political leaders, states or nations, true economic activity cannot rebound significantly until workers and consumers trust that they can enter a given building without risking a “direct threat” from the COVID-19 virus.
We do not believe the experience of being inside any public building will return to “normal” in coming months. Prolonged or intermittent social distancing may be necessary into 2022. Moreover, we have communicated with clients from many industries, and they overwhelmingly share a core belief for safely protecting the workforce and community, while minimizing health risk.
Using IoT to safeguard the workplace and public spaces
For the foreseeable future, humanity-driven health practices will be essential in daily work/life routines, crucial components in combatting not just COVID-19 but other potential infectious outbreaks. Businesses are devising prevention strategies that are necessarily infused with tech-driven solutions. Going forward, enterprises will require previously unimaginable real-time information about anyone entering and occupying their facilities — and must gather this data without compromising privacy.
This not only provides the needed insights to minimize potential health risk when entering and operating in a building or space. It also resolvesuncertainty or anxiety by visualizing “digital and physical awareness” that an environment is being monitored and managed at the top-most environmental health and safety levels.
Here are some of the challenges faced by businesses, as well as technologies that can address those challenges:
Physical distance tracking. In facilities ranging from retail stores to office buildings to recreation areas, it is and will remain necessary to gauge both the distance between individuals and overall occupancy density. Cameras — including millions of existing ones — will play a key role, coupled with data-stream analytics. Solutions will generate reports and insights, keeping management up to speed on the effectiveness of the company’s “physical” distance practice, while also identifying deviations and their root cause. Occupancy density solutions can be scaled up to open spaces, making it feasible to monitor the effectiveness of physical distancing enforcement and mitigate dangerously dense crowds through automated announcements and other measures.
Human temperature tracking. With fever being a common COVID-19 symptom, there is new emphasis on measuring body temperatures. While Nemaura, Google’s Verily and others have developed body-worn temperature patches capable of transmitting data, we believe many organizations will opt to place measurement technology at facility entrances in order to detect potential entrants who may carry risk. Footfall sensors would detect approaching people; thermal scanners would then send an image to security personnel, who would intercept risks — perhaps escorting them to a virus-testing booth for further evaluation. As with density tracking, this solution is scalable, especially with the advent of 5G; it could be used in multiple areas. As an added benefit, gathered data could be shared with medical facilities to identify potential trouble spots.
Monitoring hand hygiene. Those “EMPLOYEES MUST WASH HANDS” signs taped to restroom walls just won’t cut it anymore. We envision a system of sensors and wearable devices that record when a worker enters a restroom; reminds them to wash their hands; ensures that soap has been dispensed and that the actual washing meets standards for duration and thoroughness; and, with the washing completed, dispenses a token. That token must then be presented to a manager before the employee returns to work.
Indoor air quality tracking. A series of sensors and actuators, along with a dashboard monitored by facilities personnel, will track air quality in real time, reducing the need for manual intervention in maintaining ventilation and appropriate air quality levels. Alarms can be set to alert personnel when methane, volatile organic chemicals, fine dust and particles, smoke and humidity reach inappropriate levels. Additionally, such a solution would remind technicians when filters need replacing and anticipate maintenance needs and even potential component failures.
Restroom hygiene tracking. Solutions in this area would track and report myriad variables that affect these critical areas. Real-time tracking of humidity and temperature would alert personnel to deviations and non-compliance, automate the dehumidifying and ventilation processes, and ensure that dry, comfortable restrooms are available. Occupancy rates and consumables would also be monitored in real time.
Next steps, first steps
As we prepare to reopen, we need to help the world feel at ease when entering banks, stores, theme parks, theaters, restaurants, and more. It’s time for business leaders to become proactive by applying instrumentation, analytics and software engineering to make every space intelligent, less expensive to manage, more comfortable and safer for us all.
With the world looking to reopen as soon as is safely possible, businesses are seeking solutions quickly. The interactive figure below depicts how to create an aggressive yet feasible timetable and is subject to hardware availability.
What is now commonly called the “new normal” may not yet feel normal at all. But in a post COVID-19 world, businesses must take extraordinary measures to reassure employees and customers alike. We believe forward-looking organizations that make these investments will reap rewards for years to come.