FLIR Thermal Cameras Improve Office Safety and Wellness Amid COVID-19 Concerns
According to the South Korean government’s “Workplace Response Guidelines against COVID-19,” businesses must temporarily shut down if a confirmed COVID-19 patient was present in the building. The guidelines require businesses to close for a minimum of two days to disinfect the facility and eliminate the possibility of further infection. In the case of a large building with several offices, shuttering an entire building can lead to significant losses and damages, both tangible and intangible. The best option for ensuring the safety and interests of both tenants and visitors is for building operators to thoroughly screen workers, customers, and other visitors for signs of elevated skin temperature and prevent entry of those displaying suspected symptoms of COVID-19. To this end, companies such as Haesung Industrial are implementing temperature screening stations using FLIR thermal cameras at its workplace.
When a FLIR T530 thermal camera is connected to a monitor using a cable, it displays a rendering of temperature measurements in real-time to help procedures for temperature screening and monitoring.
Increasing anxiety and fear stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic
In Korea, COVID-19 started to spread at an accelerated pace 20 days after the government announced the first confirmed case of the disease. Initially, the number of newly confirmed cases per day was fewer than 30 people, nationwide (on average). Then on February 21, 2020, the number of confirmed COVID-19 patients started to rise by more than 100 new cases per day. Few of these cases were in Seoul itself, where the incident rate remained relatively low and the cumulative number of patients did not exceed 30. Nevertheless, anxiety and fear of the virus spread across the entire city, prompting many companies in Seoul to instruct their employees to work from home.
Haesung Industrial is a real estate company specializing in leasehold arrangements and facility operations for office buildings. It manages Haesung Buildings in Samseongdong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, that lease to more than 40 tenants, including branches of large commercial banks, offices of securities companies, and shared office facility managed by a well-established global brand. Given the nature of these businesses, Haesung Buildings typically see more traffic than similar office buildings, with more than 2,000 individuals entering each day. Haesung Industrial therefore developed a response plan mid-February to comply with the government’s safety guidelines (Haesung Industrial Response Plan to Manage Confirmed COVID-19 Patients on its Premises) and started immediately enforcing safety measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 within its buildings. However, with the high traffic through Haesung Buildings and the rising number of COVID-19 patients across the country, Haesung Industrial came to the conclusion that it needed to monitor entryways more closely and respond more proactively in order to ensure the safety and interests of users and tenants.
Impact of Distinct Locational Features
The Samseong-dong, Gangnam-gu area – where the Haesung Buildings are located – is a major urban hub; it is home to large buildings such as COEX, the Korea International Trade Center, the downtown airport terminal, Hyundai Department Store, and the headquarters of several major corporations. With countless visitors every day, facilities managers for these buildings were among the first to consider and implement the use of thermal cameras to screen people for elevated skin temperature. This influenced Haesung Industrial’s decision to introduce thermal cameras.
If a subject’s temperature is higher than a predetermined threshold, Haesung Industrial rechecks the temperature of said subject with a thermometer in compliance with the government’s response guidelines and deploys necessary follow-up measures.
“If most of the building operators in our local area weren’t using thermal cameras, Haesung Industrial might not have introduced thermal cameras so quickly to its response system against COVID-19. However, upon assessment of our situation, we decided that it would be more prudent to introduce thermal cameras. In the end, that decision turned out to be the right one,” said DooSoo Yeo, Manager of the Lease Management Team at Haesung Industrial.
He continued, “At first, we looked at low-cost models that required less initial outlay. But when we took other factors into account, such as resolution, measurement distance, and alarm functions, we realized that the low-cost model did not provide the performance and functions we were looking for. Also, looking at the market share and reputation of various brands in the thermal camera market, we knew FLIR would be the best choice.”
Round-the-clock protection with FLIR T530
Thermal cameras cannot detect or diagnose COVID-19 infections in a medical sense. That requires a diagnostic kit. However, thermal cameras provide an effective solution for measuring the skin temperature of a person without making physical contact. If the individual has an elevated skin temperature, they can then be tested with a medical device for fever, which can be a symptom of the coronavirus. Thermal cameras were used in a similar way during the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) outbreak in 2015, providing safe and efficient temperature measurements at various places with a lot of through-traffic such as airports, train stations, large office buildings, factories, concert halls, and gymnasiums.
The FLIR T530 thermal camera can be configured to sound an alarm when it suspects that a particular subject has elevated skin temperature.
Currently, Haesung Industrial installed a FLIR T530 thermal camera each at the main entrance of the 1st floor of Haesung Buildings. These cameras run 24-hours a day to provide round-the-clock screening capabilities. The T530 is set up at the entrance on a fixed tripod and displays skin temperature measurements of every visitor on a monitor connected with a cable. The T530 can be configured to sound an alarm if an individual shows an elevated skin temperature (higher than a predetermined temperature threshold). Further, the camera can indicate hot spots on the monitor with a red spot and display the specific temperature of the hot spot in numerical value. If the camera identifies a person with elevated skin temperature, a security guard re-measures the person’s body temperature using a thermometer, and deploys other follow-up measures in accordance with the response guidelines set by Haesung Industrial. As for the temperature threshold used in elevated skin temperature screening, the company adjusts the maximum threshold temperature between 36.5°C and 37°C depending on daily fluctuations in outdoor temperatures.
Peace of mind with thermal cameras
To date, Haesung Industrial has not had any COVID-19 patients confirmed at its premises or visitors that have subsequently been confirmed for COVID-19 infection. One visitor was measured on the higher side in terms of body temperature at 37.2oC. However, the patient tested negative against COVID-19 when assessed at a public health center.
“Introducing thermal cameras helped in two very important ways. Psychologically, they gave our tenants and visitors some peace of mind,” said Team Manager DooSoo Yeo said. “For some people, having their temperatures measured with thermal cameras can feel a little intrusive or inconvenient.”
For example, DooSoo Yeo noted that the built-in alarm can go off if a visitor is holding a cup of hot beverage, like a cup of coffee. In that case, the visitor must leave the beverage, get his temperature measured with the camera, and then get his beverage back after our security guard on duty determines that everything is in order.
“So far, everyone has cooperated with our screening procedure without any complaints. I think this is because everyone realizes that this screening is necessary to keep themselves safe,” said DooSoo Yeo. “Now, another positive impact thermal cameras have had is the fact our reputation as a building operator has improved. Our tenants have told us that they are much more satisfied with the way we operate our buildings as well.”
Since incorporating FLIR T530 cameras to its screening system, Haesung Industrial has received several inquiries from other office building operators regarding the impact and utility of using thermal cameras. DooSoo Yeo added, “Whenever a building operator or owner inquires with us, we’ve been recommending them to use thermal cameras. In particular, we’ve singled out FLIR as our company of choice. Once the COVID-19 pandemic is over, we are planning to use our FLIR cameras for building maintenance. So, we’re very satisfied with the versatility of thermal cameras as well.”