Preparing the World for the Next Pandemic

May 3, 2021
Implementing effective security at a healthcare facility requires a facilitywide approach.

After hundreds of thousands of deaths attributed to COVID-19, healthcare officials naturally are concerned about how they should prepare healthcare facilities for the next pandemic.

“As people return to work and entertainment in their daily lives, we believe that occupants, guests and customers within a facility will continue to want healthy solutions to help avoid the next pandemic,” says Darren Blankenship, vice president of vertical sales at dormakaba. “Customers will likely frequent facilities where they feel that health is paramount and steps to maintain a healthy environment are evident.”

The question is: What can locksmiths do to protect these facilities further so if another pandemic takes place, the situation won’t be dire?

Specific concerns, as they pertain to the locksmith trade, include the following:

  1. Access control measures — mechanical and electronic — that are conducive to isolating the sick from those who remain well.
  2. How to promote touchless access without compromising overall facility security.
  3. Ways in which to automate the intake process that include noninvasive, data-oriented methods of electronic tracking to assure that management and security know who potentially is ill and who isn’t.

Touch-Free Access

One of the first considerations with regard to the prevention of disease is the elimination of physical contact between individuals who might have, or at least carry, an infectious disease and others. Because traditional door access typically involves physical contact, providing hands-free access at healthcare facilities is at the top of our To-Do list. Fortunately, the security industry already was transitioning to this before COVID-19 came along.

With this clearly in mind, the replacement of traditional hands-on methods of entry, such as mechanical locks and access control keypads, with touch-free technologies must continue into the foreseeable future, particularly in healthcare.

“Touchless access is crucial in high-contact public places, such as healthcare facilities, “ Blankenship says. “[The facilities should bring] contactless, barrier-free and user-friendly access to the entrance to minimize high-frequency touch points and reduce the spread of germs.”

A good example are the hands-free, Request-to-Exit (REX) devices found in nursing homes, clinics, hospitals and other healthcare facilities, sometimes in tandem with an automatic door operator. Now, with the wave of a hand, doors unlock,which allows someone to leave the building without touching a mechanical lock, egress keypad or any other device. This is a big seller for those who deal with electronic access control (EAC). Just think of all the REX push-buttons that are out there.

Although this type of REX typically is employed on building exit doors, it can be used on interior doors that are equipped with a low-energy door operator. However, Thomas Baker, owner of 304 Locksmithing of Dunbar, West Virginia, says he hasn’t seen much use of automatic door operators in healthcare facilities.

“Most have minimized patients touching surfaces by propping doors open and disinfecting, or cleaning has increased,” he says. “I’m sure openers may help, but most clients aren’t putting money into those specifically.”

An alternative is a simple mechanical device that allows someone to open an in-swinging door (from the user’s vantage point), such as options that are found in ASSA ABLOY’s Safer2Open suite of hands-free solutions.

“We anticipate requirements for low-touch and hands-free products to continue as more automation around the door opening is introduced,” says Lisa Corte, director of product management, electronic access control with ASSA ABLOY. “In addition, this pandemic has highlighted the importance of proper hardware-cleaning techniques to mitigate the spread of germs through high-frequency touch points within a building.”

One of the obstacles to using touchless egress in some situations, such as nursing homes, is the necessity to prevent certain patients from freely leaving by a mere wave of the hand or an egress motion detector.

“In a psychiatric hospital, for example, we install [patient wandering] systems with delayed egress on pretty much every perimeter door,” says  Duane Neuenkirk, owner of Colorado Elite Security of Thornton, Colorado. “You also can install proximity or Bluetooth-credentialed access along with automatic openers on these doors, but what do you do to solve the power-loss issue?”

Visitor Management

With prophetic warnings of an even more devastating pandemic ahead, hospitals and other health-related facilities should take a close look at how they operate on a daily basis. This introspection should include “visitor security.”

Prior to the pandemic, most hospitals, clinics and doctors’ offices followed an “open visitor” policy of one type or another. In most hospitals, visitors long have been able to meander around the complex at will. Such meanderings might include a visit to a patient’s room followed by the cafeteria and gift shop — all without checking in with security when the visitor arrived. During COVID-19, this practice largely has been curtailed, replaced with another where security controls who may enter and when they can do so.

Additional healthcare operations, such as doctors’ offices, clinics and MRI facilities, always limited how far visitors can penetrate their building before checking in with a receptionist. But even then, the fact that anyone can enter the building at all without concern for body temperature, symptoms of an illness, the presence of a mask or their medical history should be of concern to doctors, nurses and others who work there.

The solution to this hinges on the installation of EAC security measures, such as specialized thermal cameras equipped with edge-oriented video data analysis, interfaced with an access door controller and an electric strike or electromagnetic lock. When all necessary conditions are met, the door will unlock. When this screening procedure is combined with an authentic mantrap, visitors can be screened individually before they enter the building by using a traditional camera and intercom system.

Another security measure that hospitals should consider is a visitor-management system where security personnel can establish a data point that can be accessed by nurses, doctors and managers at any time via any network terminal within the facility.

“We have what is called Safe Passage, which automatically sends out notices to employees, guests and tenants, for example, with health questions or waiver-signing that needs to be addressed before entry through access control credentials will be allowed into a facility,” says Mike Simon, co-founder and managing partner at Connected Technologies. “This will provide for additional monthly recurring revenue to locksmiths.”

There’s also a lasting benefit to this in that if a visitor were to come into contact with someone who later was found to have a contagious disease, anyone who visited them during that time could be notified quickly along with their caregiver, if one were listed in the system.

Allan B. Colombo is a longtime trade journalist and professional in the security and life-safety markets. Contact him at [email protected], 330-956-9003 or