Access Control

Are Thermal Imaging Cameras A Good Choice for COVID Screenings?

By Michael Blakley and Luke Hannibal

Everyone is looking for efficient and cost-effective ways to track and prevent the spread of COVID-19. One solution garnering a lot of attention is the use of thermal imaging camera technology.

But, while on the surface it looks like the solution to keeping employees and customers safe in a facility, it may not be the best way to do so.  These cameras utilize infrared technology which is designed for very specific use applications.

What Are Thermal Imaging Cameras?

First, what is infrared camera technology? In a nutshell, a thermal imaging camera translates the amount of thermal energy (heat) into visible light.

They are used in a variety of industries: firefighters use them to see through smoke, electric companies can use them to find overheating joints and parts. Even in the security industry, thermal imaging cameras can help with perimeter security by allowing cameras to spot the presence of people at night.

Because thermal temperature cameras or “fever cameras”, as they are commonly referred to, can detect the presence of elevated temperature, it makes sense why this technology is all the rage right now. It seems like a great solution for quickly identifying people with an elevated temperature without the need for added staff stationed at an entrance.

However, we believe that this technology isn’t the best solution for temperature screening at your facility. There just isn’t enough return on investment to make it a good choice from our perspective.

Let’s talk about why.

Top problems with thermal imaging cameras for COVID-19 screenings

1. They aren’t medical devices.

Thermal imaging cameras are not thermometers. They aren’t as accurate as a thermometer, and there are a lot of variables that can affect their readings (such as HVAC vents blowing air through the facility, camera setup and background content). These cameras are showing heat in comparison to an object’s surroundings, not pinpointing a numerical temperature, which makes them unreliable.

2. The cameras are expensive.

A typical security camera costs $1,000-$3,000 installed. A thermal imaging camera can be anywhere between $5,000 and $15,000. Per camera, that’s a cost that can add up quickly if you need more than one.

3. The cameras aren’t plug and play.

Thermal cameras are extremely sensitive and have to be set up, calibrated, and configured properly for them to work as intended. Plus, they need to be used under tightly controlled circumstances. Some cameras look for the hottest point on a body and measure that, which is great until someone has walked briskly into the building on a warm day or has just taken off layers of coats when it’s warm.

Even under ideal conditions noted above, the best accuracy (true positives and true negatives) achievable is somewhere around 70%.

4. Logistics are tough.

Thermographic cameras are slow. They can only be used for one person at a time so a bottleneck is sure to happen during peak entry times.

To really measure well, the cameras need to be used with a black background and the person must remain still while the camera takes its reading. Instead of making the scanning process faster, this can take longer than having a person conduct a temperature screening manually.

Plus, you would have to ensure your cameras are programmed to work with an access control system to either grant or deny access based on a temperature reading. While this can be done, it’s another factor to consider and may still require a team member to be involved to handle possible false readings, etc.

5. There are liability and privacy concerns.

The cameras raise significant liability and privacy issues. Using the cameras for an unintended use can open up a host of issues, such as who can see the readings, where are they kept, how are they discarded, etc.?

Internationally, there are different rules depending on the country where the company is doing business.

These are all things to take in serious consideration before deploying this solution.

What do we recommend instead for COVID-19 temperature screenings?

Unfortunately, there are not great automated solutions that can replace the use of a regular in person temperature screening.

If staffing your entrance is too expensive or burdensome, a self-service temperature kiosk is a better, more cost-effective solution. They cost about $3,000 and they are much more accurate than what we keep seeing called “fever cameras.”

While we don’t install body temperature systems, it’s our job to work with clients to find the best solutions for all their facility’s security and safety challenges. And sometimes, the answer may be to use a technology that we don’t offer or support.

Because we believe it’s far better to recommend the best solutions for our clients instead of trying to sell a piece of technology that won’t do the job properly. We believe this is definitely one of those times.

We hope this is helpful to you as you consider the best ways to handle your facility’s temperature screenings for COVID-19.

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