Effective Use Of Thermal Imaging Camera Systems

Thermal imaging camera systems require considerations critical to accuracy of the readings, optimal throughput, and quick alerts when the system detects a person with an elevated temperature.

By Jason Ouellette

The role of the facility executive is often multi-faceted — they are responsible for the overall maintenance of a facility, encompassing structural and general building system maintenance, HVAC and lighting concerns, waste management, and a host of other elements to ensure that a facility remains fully operational and able to welcome both workers and visitors alike.

With the onset of COVID-19, facility executives have now had to add a new responsibility to their job description — determining how best to safely reopen a previously closed facility or to enable customers to return without contributing to the spread of a highly contagious virus. They are focused on which new procedures need to be implemented, working through safety guidelines on cleaning protocols, capacity limitations, and social distancing standards.

thermal imaging
Photo: Getty Images

And while all of these measures are critical to ensure a clean and safe space, many recognize that technology — specifically thermal imaging camera systems — will also play a pivotal role. These systems will proactively determine whether an employee or visitor may have an elevated temperature, the most common symptom of COVID-19, providing a critical first line of defense to help businesses decide who is allowed to enter their facility.

Many facility executives are already familiar with the implementation and key benefits of surveillance camera solutions, as they are often heavily involved in the decision-making process as it relates to security system investment and deployment.

Unlike general IP cameras, thermal imaging camera systems require additional considerations critical to ensuring accuracy of the readings, optimal throughput and effectiveness of monitoring, alerting and response when the camera system detects an elevated temperature.

A Look At Thermal Cameras

First, it’s important to remember that not all thermal camera systems are the same. Those that come equipped with a blackbody temperature calibration device offer the highest degree of accuracy. Because it provides a continuous temperature calibration for the camera, the blackbody device mitigates many of external factors, such as ambient temperatures, that might affect the accuracy of the thermal sensor of the camera. With a proper installation and deployment environment, a thermal camera with blackbody device can achieve a ±0.3ºC/0.5ºF accuracy rating. In addition, it’s important to make sure the system is calibrated. This can be done after the unit is stabilized for 30 minutes to establish an initial reference temperature source. And, the blackbody with the system should also come with a calibration certificate.

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A thermal imaging camera from Tyco

Next, take into consideration the actual placement of the thermal imaging camera system, which is essential to ensure the system works as expected. This includes the height and the distance of the camera and the blackbody device. Installation guidelines will provide calibration parameters in addressing the distance between the camera and the person undergoing the scan. Cameras should also be installed parallel to the face to ensure optimal accuracy.

The actual location of the camera system is also of importance. The camera system should not be located in an expansive glass entryway or anywhere where airflow varies considerably, as they are sensitive to strong backlighting. Sunlight exposure can skew results, while locating the camera system near a door entryway where heating and cooling sources are located will also impact accuracy. This is known as temperature drift where the opening, or closing, of a door in close proximity to the thermal imaging camera system generates wind and potential temperature shifts from the mix of outside air with inside ambient temperatures. As a best practice, thermal imaging camera systems should be located 16 feet from entryways, and placed in an area that supports consistent ambient temperature of between 50°F and 95°F.

Facility executives also have to think about the flow of people and the actual throughput.
Achieving effective throughput, through a turnstile or a busy main entry door with card reader, requires a single person at a time to be able to walk through without stopping. To ensure a high level of accuracy and to maintain proper resolution with a thermal imaging camera system, an interval of two to four seconds between each person is required. Depending on how many people need to be processed, camera systems can be deployed at multiple lanes to accommodate anticipated traffic — between 15 and a maximum of 30 individuals per minute can be processed by a camera-black body pair.

System monitoring and integrations should also be factored in. Systems that offer a variety of options for monitoring and alerting when an elevated temperature is detected provide much needed flexibility for facility executives to incorporate into their response procedures. Some camera systems can be configured to monitor a specific range of low and high temperatures. Bright and easy-to-see LED light can then pulse and flash to provide visual notification of an elevated temperature, or it can be configured to integrate with a built-in speaker to provide audible alerts in many cases as examples of ways to alert to temperature anomalies.

Thermal cameras can also integrate with a variety of solutions, including turnstiles, VMS platforms, and access control systems, thereby extending the monitoring capabilities of a standalone solution. When the thermal imaging camera detects a temperature anomaly, it can automatically trigger a turnstile to lock and prevent the person from further entry into the facility until a secondary temperature check is performed. It can also send an automated contagion report for contact tracing through an access control or VMS platform.

As facility executives navigate the new norm of facility management and operations during the time of COVID-19, technology will prove a valuable resource to safely reopen for both employees and visitors. When deployed properly, thermal camera systems can give assurances to building occupants that health and safety measures are of the utmost importance and provide a valuable first line assessment of COVID-19 related concerns to help to mitigate risks.

thermal imagingOuellette is the head of technology business development for Johnson Controls. In his over 20-year career with the company, he has served in a number of leadership positions within the Tyco International and the Tyco Security Products businesses, which are now part of Johnson Controls. This includes global product general manager for Enterprise Access and Video, director of product management for Access Control globally, director of R&D, and engineering manager. He is based out of the company’s office in Westford, MA.

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