Contact tracing using non-CCTV solutions is integral to limit the problems that COVID-19 may cause in a work environment.
One of the key phrases that COVID-19 has brought to everyday parlance is contact tracing. It refers to the process of finding out people who may have encountered an infected person. Security solutions, especially those that use video analytics, can help authorities with contact tracing
. But they have some limitations as CCTV cameras are fixed and cannot follow people around.
As economies reopen and companies begin to bring employees back, the risk of an infected person coming to work
is high. If they or someone they infected is identified, companies must immediately trace people who have been in within a specific physical distance from them. For this, they need a robust contact tracing solution that does not violate privacy.
This is where non-video contact tracing solutions prove invaluable. Three technologies have come up as most useful for this, Bluetooth through
smartphone apps, Bluetooth through wearables (tag, bracelet, card, etc.), and GPS technology. Wi-Fi and UWB (Ultra-Wide Band) are also useful for indoor areas.
"GPS & Bluetooth technologies are quite useful as they can complement CCTV or other traditional contact tracing processes (e.g., trying to remember all people you have been in contact with over the past 15 days)," explained Guillaume Boisgontier, Innovative Products & Solution Marketing Manager at Kerlink, a company that provides contact tracing solutions.
How end-to-end contact tracing works
There is more than one way to trace contacts, but Bluetooth has become a preferred technology for most methods. Boisgontier provided an example of how Kerlink's contact tracing system works and ensures protection in a work environment.
A BLE bracelet is given to each worker.
The bracelet detects other bracelets and registers them when in proximity (<2-3 meters for 10 mins)
Once someone is detected as infected, the management can easily see who has been in contact with the person by looking at the bracelet's registry. They can then inform those workers that they have been close to an infected person.
The at-risk people can then be isolated and tested without the need to completely shut down a site.
How these compare to CCTV-based contact tracing
Nader Fathi, CEO of Kiana Analytics, explains that CCTV's major problems are cost, accuracy, and privacy. He advocates using Wi-Fi, which many organizations already have, and often covers more area than CCTV.
"In case of using Wi-Fi signals, the customer is leveraging existing infrastructure and good coverage," Fathi added. "All occupants in companies
and universities are already logged-in (opt-in) into the system."
Boisgontier elaborated on this, adding that there are both pros and cons to using non-CCTV contact tracing solutions. On the bright side, they are less intrusive, cheaper, and easier to put in place. The necessary IT resources and effort to process Bluetooth device data is also lower than CCTV technologies that need a lot of memory and data processing to extract relevant information.
However, the solution may not be as accurate as CCTV in an ideal setting. Moreover, the authorities must ensure that everyone wears a Bluetooth device on them all the time, which is not always easy. But Boisgontier adds that Bluetooth-based solutions can be repurposed after the pandemic to serve other purposes, like asset tracking or for helping in hospital administration
"Tags can be reused after the pandemic when transferred from a person to an object to be tracked (palette, wheelchair, bed)," Boisgontier pointed out. "The solution could also be transformed into a personal and low-cost health system. The tag could send an alert if a patient has disappeared or escape from a hospital (for example, with Alzheimer's disease). It can also measure a person's heartbeat and send an alert if it’s too low."
Limitations and efficiency
One of the problems with many solutions that have come into the market to deal with COVID-19 issues is that we have had limited time to test their efficacy and finetune them. The same is true with contact tracing solutions as well. Their efficiency still needs to be proven, as there is no evidence yet that these technologies help prevent the spread of a pandemic.
"However, it is a good addition to prevention measures like social distancing, hand washing, wearing a mask, or using CCTV-based technologies," Boisgontier added. "It may help reduce curb epidemic growth if combined with those elements and robust public health efforts. It is also another tool at the disposal of a company to ensure the safety of its employees. It could help them avoid situations where a company has to shut down if someone tests positive."
Will they work everywhere?
Now that we understand how these solutions work, the obvious question is where they would work, and more importantly, where they wouldn't. The short answer is that these Bluetooth-based solutions work well in a controlled environment like an office space. Outside, not so much.
"In public spaces, solutions including GPS seem well-adapted," said Boisgontier. "For offices, it may not work well as GPS has difficulties as soon as we are in an indoor environment. That's where Bluetooth-based solutions may fit better. It's even better in factories where employees may not have a smartphone with them and need a Bluetooth wearable."