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Mobile Access and Location Services Technologies Create Safe and Trusted Campus Experiences

Mobile technologies used for access control and building management are creating safer, more secure, and more convenient experiences in the modern workplace, university campuses, and healthcare institutions. They are also reinforcing the role of trusted identities as a linchpin for more efficient, touch-free, and resilient building environments—especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

One example is wireless technologies in building management and utilization applications. They are now being called upon to automate physical-distancing and contact-tracing policies in compliance with public health mandates, including at one Massachusetts university. The technology ensures that only trusted students, faculty, staff members, and visitors can enter the university’s two campuses.

Early in the spring of 2020, administrators at this private university began exploring how they could safely resume on-campus classes in the fall and maintain operations should isolated parts of the community become infected. Contact tracing was a key pillar to their approach.

The university first installed wireless network access points (APs) throughout both campuses. Next, HID BluFi Bluetooth gateways were deployed that use the Wi-Fi network to listen for signals from HID BEEKS Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) badges, called beacons. Each person who comes onto campus must carry a beacon inside a badge holder on a lanyard. They also must complete a daily symptom survey to remain on campus.

As they are carried around campus, the beacons generate roughly 300,000 lines of location data per day. This information is sent to the cloud using HID Bluzone Cloud software and is stored in a database for real-time and historical analysis. By querying this database, the university can triangulate the location information from multiple APs to determine the relative location of everyone on campus—similar to how GPS is used.

In the event that an individual becomes infected, university administrators can learn where the person traveled on campus, identify those who were in contact with the person for at least 10 minutes, and notify those individuals so they can be isolated and monitored.

The university has also used this information to monitor a real-time count of the individuals on either campus to ensure that they are following state and local occupancy level guidelines.

Solutions like these can also be used to implement social-distancing policies recommended by public health experts. Through their peer-to-peer capabilities, the beacons provide auditory behavioral feedback when people carry them with­in six feet of someone else carrying a beacon, and then remain there for a specified period.

As an alternative to badges, users can carry fobs with these same beacon capabilities. Fobs or badges can be issued to anyone entering the premises, and administrators can define all distancing policies and alert parameters for mitigating an infection outbreak per public health guidelines. Zones can also be created with geo-fences around high-traffic areas to minimize large congregations of people.

Solutions like these must strike a balance between individual health safety and personal privacy. In the university’s deployment, all collected data is destroyed after the 14-day period associated with the typical viral infection period. During those 14 days, the data can only be accessed by senior IT department staff for contact tracing purposes.

Also, the beacons only transmit a device Media Access Control (MAC) address that contains no personal information. This data would be useless to anyone except the IT department—and only after translation within the database.

Location services technologies are already in broad use by Fortune 500 companies for managing building occupancy, optimizing office and facility space, asset tracking, and monitoring the health of equipment.

Now they also provide the foundation for safely and confidently reopening and sustaining operations at universities and other work environments during this pandemic.

Mark Robinton, vice president of IoT services for HID Global