How Smart Video Helps Employees Return Safely

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The workplace has forever changed. What began as an unprecedented, global work-from-home (WFH) experiment has now become the new normal for many employees. A Gallup poll of 9,000 American workers reports nine in 10 remote workers want to maintain remote work to some degree, and that 76% of remote workers say their employer will allow remote or hybrid work going forward. No matter how many days are required to work in the office, companies are embracing smart video and artificial intelligence (AI) to help employees return to a safe and secure workplace.

“As companies prepare for employees to return to work, they are leveraging technology to protect them from COVID-19 and similar illnesses and create a lower stress atmosphere for those who may be concerned about returning, whether they are vaccinated or not,” said Baruch Labunski, CEO of Rank Secure, an SEO agency based in Toronto.

Rank Secure uses thermometer guns to check employees’ temperatures upon entry. They have also implemented heat-detection, social distancing cameras, and facial recognition software.

AI brings a new normal to security

Brian Mallari, director of marketing for Smart Video at Western Digital, shares how customers and partners are using smart video to bring employees back to work safely.

“The pandemic has accelerated and driven new use cases such as thermal monitoring, crowd counting, PPE detection, and air quality monitoring which rely heavily on AI,” he said.

These new AI-driven use cases coincide with some of the biggest changes in the physical security industry in years.

Omar Khan, CTO at Rhombus Systems, explains how traditional security and space management were very complex, requiring hardware and network video recorders (NVRs) to be installed at every location. Companies were limited by how they could scale both in terms of hardware and dedicated people managing the infrastructure. Today, Rhombus provides video surveillance as a service (VSaaS) using the cloud to manage multi-locations and AI to sift through the data quickly and alert customers of any unusual activity.

“The video security industry needed an overhaul from its old school ways,” said Khan. Five years ago, Rhombus Systems [and others] embarked on a mission to redesign video security and video space management. “[The industry] desperately needed drastic innovations to simplify the installation experience and management to be proactive, not reactive.”

Rhombus’ cloud-based video cameras enable customers to use heat maps, crowd counting, PPE detection, face recognition, and unusual behavior alerts as part of their return to site initiatives. Western Digital’s WD Purple™ serves as the underlying storage behind some of Rhombus’ most powerful cameras, allowing users to store up to 180 days of video on a single 1 TB WD Purple Pro microSD™ card.

Seen and unseen

Companies are also taking steps to provide a safe work environment as it relates to the spread of disease. Rhombus’ environmental sensors measure air quality, including carbon dioxide (CO2) levels, in a workplace.

“The CO2 levels have shown a direct correlation of the risk of disease rising the more CO2 is in the air,” said Khan. He referenced studies by the University of Colorado Boulder in the U.S. and the National Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health in Canada comparing indoor CO2 levels to the risk of COVID-19 transmission. The studies have quantified an upper threshold of 1,000 parts per million (PPM) for indoor CO2 levels to be considered safe.

Rhombus’ customers can then correlate air quality metrics with the crowd counting feature of its cameras to determine whether a space is overcrowded. If a company is expecting 70 employees in the office but 100 come in, Khan explains, site managers may have to adjust scheduling or take other precautions like using additional purifying efforts in HVAC systems to be sure employees are protected and healthy.

“The camera features and environmental sensors help our customers give their employees peace of mind so they can provide the best possible environment as they return to work,” said Khan.

AI for vision technology

“The security industry hasn’t changed in years compared to the tech industry,” said Caleb Lau, program manager for Global Security Systems at Western Digital. “But with AI and machine learning making its way into video surveillance, it’s a treasure trove of untapped potential.”

Lau and the Global Security team at Western Digital are working with Ambient.ai for an internal implementation. Ambient.ai enables users to prevent security incidents by using its computer vision technology and “threat signatures” to alert teams about activities of interest without using facial recognition or personally identifiable information (PII).

For example, with access control, most companies require employees to swipe their badge to enter a building to prevent unauthorized access. But if someone holds the door and allows five, 10, or more people to enter (an occurrence known as “tailgating”), that action would not necessarily trip off a single Physical Access Control System (PACS) alert.

“There’s no effective way to ascertain that this just happened without vision technology,” said James Connor, head of corporate engagements at Ambient.ai. Connor explains that just as our brains make sense of what our eyes see, AI does the same for cameras. “It’s a digital transformation of people watching for these things, in which AI becomes the ‘eyes’ that contextualize all that’s around us.”

Western Digital is working with Ambient.ai to standardize its security systems across its worldwide locations. AI enables companies like Western Digital to monitor workplace safety — from incidents that include a person falling to seeing how and why a machine broke in a factory — and free up security personnel to focus on escalation and resolution.

Traditional video surveillance required that personnel be dedicated to watching a wall of video streams 24×7 and reacting to incidents after the fact by sifting through hours of video footage.

“This AI-powered solution removes the responsibility of monitoring from security guards who might be fatigued from working the graveyard shift, glued to a wall of 60 monitors, and may also be facing other constraints that include labor shortages due to COVID,” Lau adds.

As a result, Lau says forward-thinking companies using smart video and AI can achieve a significant reduction of capex and use those dollars to invest in technology.

New norms in the workplace

As companies adapt to manage occupancy in the workplace, new measures are likely to be enforced to keep the workplace safe.

One change employee will see is a much lower tolerance for tailgating, according to Lau, who is working closely with HR and facilities operations to optimize occupancy and manage space as employees return to work. With possible variants on the horizon, it’s critical to know who’s in the building.

“Safety and security used to be about theft issues, such as leaving a purse or wallet on your desk, but now it’s about much more, including whether that space is safe from a virus or other risk factors,” said Connor.  “In the past, the focus was on consolidating people into one space, but now companies are trying to create a safe workplace experience. They’re very concerned with how to safely draw people back.”

Labunski foresees post-pandemic companies to adopt enhanced geotracking systems, more audio and video in buildings, and the use of drones and wearables to collect location and health data.

“For 2022 remote work will continue even after we fully open,” said Labunski. “But bringing people back to the office and a focus on wellness is a new metric companies value and use.”

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