Access Control For The Future Of Healthy Buildings

Before the pandemic, access privileges were determined and managed based on security. Now, occupant health considerations are part of the access control equation.

By Jurgen Timperman

The human and business impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold. The rapid pace at which the pandemic is spreading and the actions to curb it are having an unprecedented impact on the way we live and work. While it is too early to understand the full magnitude of these events, organizations must do more than merely adapt to COVID-19 — they must prepare for a world changed post-COVID-19.

The pandemic is creating a central shift in how the workspace is perceived, designed, and operated. Implementing strategies to benefit occupants’ peace of mind and physical well-being are more critical than ever. Healthy building strategies will be intricately linked to the new normal of building design and operations. As businesses, schools, and other institutions work to reopen with occupant health and safety top of mind, healthy buildings are a tool to help with long-term health promotion. Improvements will prepare facility managers to contend with COVID-19 as well as enable the best possible future in the new normal.

healthy builldings
Photo: Getty Images/Zephyr18

Safety And Security: Important Steps For Healthy Buildings

Because COVID-19 is thought to spread mainly from person to person and especially when in close contact (inside of six feet), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one of the ways to reduce the risk of transmission is to limit gatherings and maintain social distancing. Schools and businesses accomplished this earlier this year by shuttering their buildings and transitioning to remote work and study. Now, as the reality of living with the virus becomes more unavoidable, organizations are taking steps to safely welcome people back to their facilities. That means finding effective ways to maintain social distancing in workplaces, classrooms, and campuses, including occupancy management and enhanced access control.

Basic versions of these technologies are in place in countless workplaces all around the world. Key cards and fobs — including most student ID cards — grant or limit access to buildings and rooms every day. The difference, of course, is that before the pandemic, access privileges were determined and managed based on security. Today, those considerations are only part of the issue. Now, the pressing challenge is limiting access to control occupant density and maintain safe distance between individuals.

Adapted for virus mitigation, these technologies can help organizations control site density by setting limits on the number of people allowed in a specific space and preventing access once that number is met. Users can also set alerts for attempts to access blocked areas or create reports to support contact tracing. Existing access control systems can also be configured to provide remote monitoring, so administrators can identify when limits are reached.

Moving Forward

As we move out of the pandemic, the same access restrictions and occupancy limitations that came into play during the pandemic can be used to enhance the future security of users.

It’s also important to remember that, while COVID-19 may not be with us forever, other infectious diseases can and will present challenges anywhere people gather. It’s easy to imagine organizations applying similar occupancy limits and access control during peak flu season or other widespread outbreaks. Using the following healthy building technologies, organizations can identify and isolate infected individuals to limit potential transmission and support contact tracing efforts to help protect the health of buildings.

Mobile Credentials

There are things we may have done dozens of times every day without thinking twice — grab a door handle, push an elevator button, or turn on a water faucet — that we now try to avoid. Even the simple act of shaking hands has all but disappeared from our lives.

No technology can replace a handshake, but there are solutions to some of the issues related to common touchpoints throughout a building. Mobile credentialing is one such solution, eliminating the need for keypads, touchscreens, key cards, and fobs by moving access control capabilities to Bluetooth-enabled smartphones. This reduces touchpoints for users and reduces the opportunities for transmission of surface-borne viruses and microorganisms.

Mobile credentials can also be applied to advanced security management, allowing administrators to change access settings and manage systems remotely. Smartphone technologies and mobile communications protocols make mobile credentials significantly more secure than traditional secure access devices. Key cards can be lost, stolen or copied, but users inherently value their phones more highly, which increases their operational security practices.

Touchless Access Is About More Than Access

Today’s student IDs purchase meals at the dining hall, supplies at the bookstore, and copies in the library, grant access to sporting events and concerts, and often are accepted as payment at nearby stores and restaurants. Mobile credentials offer the same functionality in a more secure package, as well as unimagined capabilities that can be added with a simple software upgrade.

That’s the key to offering mobile credentials and access control technologies more broadly. They aren’t just about health and safety. These technologies certainly provide valuable protections during the pandemic, but they also lay the foundation for more advanced services that can be tailored to specific organizations and personalized for specific users. Post COVID-19, these technologies will offer lasting improvements to interactions with our environments and, ultimately, our way of life.

Proactive Screening Solutions

COVID-19 remains a mystery in some ways. We still have little understanding of why some people experience symptoms and others do not. Even among those who have symptoms, those indicators are often different from person to person. According to the Centers for Disease Control, COVID-19 manifests itself in a myriad of different symptoms.¹ We still have limited understanding why some people experience symptoms and others remain asymptomatic.

Before a person even enters a building, an online self-assessment tool can provide the means to collect information before they arrive. Through an automated process, access can be approved or denied, or further screening can be requested.

Body temperature can be a valuable tool in their efforts to limit transmission of an illness among employees.² To complement proactive thermal screening solutions, such as the online self-assessment tool, thermal camera integration can further help assess individuals by identifying elevated temperatures, in turn allowing employers to evaluate the potential need for further COVID-19 testing and, if needed, quarantine protocols.

COVID-19 isn’t the only contagious disease that causes a fever. Thermal cameras can help prevent widespread flu outbreaks among a workforce or student body by identifying sick individuals and encouraging them to take actions to limit potential disease transmission.

At some point, we will get past this COVID-19 pandemic, but the world is unlikely to return to the world that was. The workplace will be managed with considerations to benefit workers’ peace of mind and physical welfare. Healthy building strategies will be intricately connected to the new approach of building design and operations.



healthy buildingTimperman is President, Fire & Security, for Carrier, leading the company’s Fire & Security Products and Chubb businesses globally. In this role, he is responsible for delivering life-safety products and services worldwide and driving growth through a continued focus on operational effectiveness, share expansion, and product innovation. In June 2020, Carrier’s Healthy Buildings Program was introduced, an expanded suite of advanced solutions to help deliver healthy, safe, efficient, and productive indoor environments across key verticals including commercial buildings, healthcare, hospitality, education, retail, and marine.

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