Oct 14 2020

Want to Enter a School Building? Get Scanned First

Some K–12 leaders are adding infrared sensors to their list of tools for safely reopening school buildings.

Interactions at schoolhouse entrances look a bit different during a major health crisis.

At some schools, there no longer are packs of students crowding through doors or parents lingering to say goodbye. Instead, school officials stand by — or drones fly over — scanning the temperatures of those seeking to enter the building.

Infrared thermometers are a key technology K–12 schools are starting to use as part of efforts to prevent the spread of illness in school buildings. K–12 leaders, like those in other industries, still use standard options for limiting viral spread in buildings, such as requiring everyone to wear a face mask, enforcing physical distancing and regularly sanitizing commonly touched surfaces. But as students and teachers returned to school buildings in TaiwanAustralia and Denmark, officials have adopted infrared sensor solutions that automatically identify increased temperatures in hopes of reducing the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks. Some U.S. schools are following suit.

Infrared Sensors Are a First Line of Defense

Infrared sensors detect and report surface temperature. The accuracy of infrared thermometers is on par with reliable rectal thermometers, according to PubMed.

Temperature screening technologies typically fall into three broad categories, says Rachelle Loyear, ISACA security subject matter expert and vice president of integrated security solutions at G4S, a multinational security services company. Handheld sensors typically are the simple point-and-read tools available at local drugstores and pharmacies. There is also movable technology that often forms part of a station — “smaller, camera-based systems that will automatically measure the temperature of a single person walking in a predesignated primary screening area,” Loyear says.

The third category includes integrated solutions that, Loyear says, “tie in directly to technology systems like access control, turning access credentials on and off based on the screening results.” Movable and integrated solutions such as drones generally provide greater value over time as part of larger data collection and analysis efforts to help manage changing conditions at scale. The jury is still out, however, about the accuracy, effectiveness and feasibility of infrared drones for scanning crowds.

Research has shown that these drones vary in accuracy by as much as 5 degrees Celsius — far too significant a discrepancy to gauge human fevers, let alone any illness they might indicate.

READ MORE: Consider these factors when choosing fever detection technology.

Practical Questions of Accuracy and Privacy

A fever is just one of many symptoms of COVID-19, and there are numerous reasons why someone may have an elevated body temperature.

“Surface temperature is not the same over an entire body,” Loyear says. “With people walking around in clothing, carrying laptop bags, possibly carrying hot coffee, maybe just getting in from the cold, this expectation is just not reasonable nor accurate.”

Elevated temperature readings alone don’t confirm illnesses such as COVID-19, but they can help school leaders identify potential carriers and reduce spread.

K–12 administrators should also be mindful of privacy concerns when they implement large-scale sensor deployments and be transparent about what happens to the data they collect.

“Is the goal simply to deny entry to someone with an elevated temperature?” Loyear asks. “Or, is the school trying to track trends? Are these trends macro or micro?”

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