How to Ensure Public Health Standards are Adhered to in Large Venues
Preparing for Reopening of Large-Scale Meetings and Events
In the very earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, before anyone was aware that the highly contagious and deadly virus had arrived in the US, a biotech company called Biogen held an ordinary company business meeting at Boston’s Marriott Long Wharf Hotel. Virtually no one could have anticipated that the meeting was a “super spreader” event; 100 attendees went home with the coronavirus, and a study of the genetic signatures of the virus has since linked those cases to approximately 300,000 COVID cases. (That number represents 1.6% of cases in the United States, as of mid-December, 2020; the number will definitely grow, as case numbers expand exponentially). And that Biogen meeting was a tiny event, compared to normal events such as tradeshows and conferences.
While today we all know better and corporate meetings are on hold, by early spring of 2021 the United States and other countries around the world might see a return to some normal business, thanks to the new COVID-19 vaccines. However, public health experts are cautioning that people will still have to wear masks and practice social distancing, at least for several more months.
If that is the case, organizations that host large numbers of visitors and guests should deploy systems that enable them to protect their employees and guests, and comply with those face mask, social distancing, and building occupancy mandates. The organizations who will most likely continue to be affected by these public health mandates are venues that host large gatherings for social or professional purposes: such as, hotels, conference centers, casinos, and college campuses. To ensure that they are in compliance with workplace and public health mandates, these and other similar types of organizations will need a combination of staff practices and technology solutions.
One technology that will be essential in these efforts is video surveillance, but that alone won’t be sufficient. By pairing traditional video surveillance (CCTV) technology with video analytics software, these organizations will be empowered organizations to obtain real-time information as well as trend data regarding public and workplace health safety behaviors, to remain safely operational.
How does Video Content Analysis Work?
Video intelligence software that is powered by Artificial Intelligence and Deep Learning is able to extract, classify, recognize and index objects and behaviors that are captured by video cameras. Thus, it can detect whether someone is wearing a mask, or standing at least six feet from another person. It can also detect crowd formation and count the number of persons who have entered or exited a defined space, across multiple cameras in a facility. Furthermore, the technology can also be used to conduct COVID contact tracing among their employees, they can use appearance similarity and proximity identification. And, regardless of a pandemic, video content analytics helps organizations improve security, daily operations, marketing, and planning. Keep reading for an explanation of how the technology works for each of these use cases.
Prevent Traffic Bottlenecks
Both customer service and security teams have always had a motivation to reduce crowding in event venues. Now, because social distancing is so important to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, they have another big reason to prevent crowds. In a large conference center, it is challenging for staff to be aware of crowding situations, everywhere, at all times. This is just one example of where video analytics systems are so helpful, because operators can set up real-time alerts to notify management of situations as they are evolving, such as pedestrian or vehicle traffic bottlenecks or growing queues. This enables customer service managers to respond with agility to developing situations that might impact guest safety and / or experience.
A video analytics system is able to send real-time alerts because it collects and aggregates long-term video data, which enables operators to determine benchmarks, as well as derive operational intelligence reports. After the system has been used to analyze activity over time, operators can establish normal benchmarks and create custom real-time alerts that notify operators when a normal threshold has been exceeded. For example, operators can set a real-time people-count alert that notifies them of potential crowd situations, where the number of people in a pre-defined camera view area exceeds the pre-set threshold. Upon receiving an alert, managers can then assess the situation and determine how best to break up crowds and keep traffic moving.
Comply with Occupancy Codes
Occupancy rules have existed long before coronavirus came along, to prevent excessive crowding, especially in the event of a fire or similar emergency. Security teams can leverage the software to be notified by people-count alerts when an area becomes too crowded. In the COVID era, occupancy limits are especially important to prevent crowding and facilitate social distancing. Restaurants, retail operations, and other entertainment spaces often have occupancy limitations and with video intelligence software, operators can set rules and leverage occupancy control tools to count and alert on occupancy violations. Data can also be aggregated to understand occupancy details over time and location, and make intelligent decisions for controlling occupancy more effectively over time.
Optimize Cleaning and Maintenance Operations
Even in the absence of a pandemic, guests are sensitive to facility cleanliness, so for the sake of customer satisfaction and workplace safety, property managers can leverage occupancy data to ensure a clean, sanitary environment. Rather than using traditional schedules for routine maintenance of restrooms, hallways or other spaces, managers can use video analytics alerts to trigger custom maintenance alerts that are based on actual facilities usage.
Monitor Social Distancing & Face Mask Compliance
In some venues, it may be difficult for operations and security staff to assess whether visitors are keeping a safe social distance. Some video analytics systems, however, have proximity identification, which can detect the distance between people. Operators can set six feet as a normal threshold. Although venue managers are unlikely to enforce violations in real-time, it is useful for managers to have quantifiable long-term data about where and how often their customers are violating the social distance mandate. This allows organizations to take action on individual violations (for example, if an employee is not complying with the rule), but it also allows organizations to gather long-term data about whether guests and employees are following or violating the distancing mandate; such data also provides evidence for compliance and health and safety audits. Similarly, by leveraging long-term data reports, managers can make better decisions about where and how to encourage mask-wearing. A video analytics system can be used to aggregate and report on face mask wearing statistics, forensically search for people who are wearing face masks, and send alerts if someone is not wearing a mask, and respond quickly to avert a potential problem.
Facilitate Contact Tracing
Finally, some video intelligence software may be used to conduct contact tracing among COVID-infected staff. A combination of proximity identification, appearance similarity and/or facial recognition can be used to conduct a filtered search of archived video footage across multiple cameras, to determine whether an infectious person had contact with other employees or guests, and for what duration. Managers can then advise exposed individuals to self-quarantine, while protecting the anonymity of the infected individual.
Beyond the Pandemic, Analytics Offers Many Benefits
There are many benefits of video content analysis that preceded the pandemic, and they will continue long after the pandemic. From security to marketing, property management, operations, and customer service — various departments in any organization can perform with greater efficiency and be more effective when they have quantifiable, actionable information gleaned from their video data. The data can be delivered in real-time, to improve situational awareness and response to evolving situations. For instance, security teams can receive illumination alerts when someone has turned on the lights in an office that is closed after hours. In addition, video data that is aggregated over time provides key business intelligence: Some examples include marketing managers leveraging video content analytics to gather on-site demographic data about their customers or footfall traffic data; and property managers reviewing occupancy reports to ensure compliance, as well as foot traffic heatmaps to optimize floorplans and / or how much to charge vendors for retail space. The list of possible uses is long and can be tailored to every organization’s unique business needs.
Even before the pandemic, organizations of all types have had an obligation to maintain safe environments for their employees and guests, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, they have an even greater — in some cases, legal — obligation to do so. There is no doubt that it is challenging to monitor compliance with health safety mandates, but it can be done, and one of the most effective ways is to pair existing video surveillance networks with video content analytics software.
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