Editor, IFSEC Global

Author Bio ▼

James Moore is the Editor of IFSEC Global, the leading online publication for security and fire news in the industry. James writes, commissions, edits and produces content for IFSEC Global, including articles, breaking news stories and exclusive industry reports. He liaises and speaks with leading industry figures, vendors and associations to ensure security and fire professionals remain abreast of all the latest developments in the sector.
February 1, 2021

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The Video Surveillance Report 2021

Video analytics

The role of surveillance analytics and AI in supporting security staff with the challenges of mandatory facemasks

Masks in public spaces have become ‘the norm’ as governments have implemented wide-ranging public health measures to protect against the spread of COVID-19. And, as some of the UK’s biggest supermarkets impose restrictions to customers not wearing facemasks, the issue is now impacting upon security officers more than ever.  

Alongside other nations, the UK unfortunately witnessed a significant rise in coronavirus infections in late 2020 and early 2021, causing the Government to once again impose a nationwide lockdown. As people were encouraged to ‘stay at home’ as much as feasibly possible, aside from key workers (of which security officers are included), the nation’s supermarkets also opted to tighten their own rules for entry. Tesco, Asda, Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons all announced they would be denying entry to those who were not wearing facemasks unless medically exempt, in a move designed to “protect customers and colleagues”.


Since the move was announced, concerns have been raised from security officers and their colleagues, highlighting staff may not have the resources available to deal with every customer coming into store – particularly when customers respond negatively to requests. Masks themselves have become an additional ‘flashpoint’ for some customers, so conflict de-escalation is often required, taking up further time and resource.

As one security officer in London succinctly commented when speaking to The Guardian: “The reality is that we can’t stop everyone without a face mask from coming in.” Another, speaking to WalesOnline, highlighted how they’d received “countless threats” from customers over refusals to wear masks, and they didn’t feel safe, particularly when going home to family at the end of the day.

Security firms are even starting to offer COVID-related specialisms, demonstrating the need for expertise in dealing with restrictive measures. Lodge Service, for instance, has recently added the management of social distance queues, fever screening and facemask compliance to its list of security services.

Andy Cockerill, Operations Director says: “We’ve seen an upsurge in demand from retail, corporate and logistics sectors looking for help to protect their people, profits and assets from a range of new security and safety threats. Businesses want help to ensure compliance with COVID-19 rules by visitors, as well as protection from opportunistic and organised crime gangs. Intelligent CCTV systems – with remote monitoring to identify incidents centrally and then alert local security teams – can reduce both risk and operational costs considerably.”

How can technology play a role in supporting security staff?

While staff on the ground are still very much required, technology can play a role in supporting supermarkets – and those retailers that follow once restrictions loosen again – to protect their customers and employees.

Facial recognition technology is now a well-known phenomenon, but it has only been in the past 12 months where its use has been altered on a mass scale for the benefit of containing viruses. Video analytic tech companies, alongside surveillance manufacturers, are now using similar technology that allows cameras to detect individuals wearing masks.

Indeed, in the IFSEC Global Video Surveillance Report 2020, ‘facial mask detection’ was ranked second (only behind thermal cameras) in the video technology believed to be most useful in managing COVID-19 or future infections. Security professionals are well aware, then, of the benefits such analytics software can bring to the table. Alongside several other vendors, IDIS introduced its AI Box for COVID-19 in response, which counts people counting, density control and mask detection among its features.

Another such vendor, who IFSEC Global had the chance to sit down with recently, is Digital Barriers – a technology company that supports the government agencies with various security programmes, as well as a range of small to large commercial organisations. In the wake of COVID, its analytics department has enhanced its AI-based software to encompass both mask detection and people counting in one package, known as MDX.

Neil Hendry, VP EMEA Digital Barriers, believes that to have both solutions in one is a key benefit, while the software can integrate with several of the major VMS systems, as well as access control points. The company recently trialled its software with Slough Borough Council, with positive feedback.


“We trialed the technology over a two-month period and found not only was it simple to implement, but the accuracy of the mask detection was impeccable. We no longer needed an employee solely dedicated to monitoring face coverings positioned at the entrance, but simply someone to double-check customers were complying in instances where the ‘no mask alert’ was triggered. The people counting element was a great added bonus, helping us to maintain social distancing guidelines and easily monitor the buildings occupancy,” explained Peter Webster, CCTV Manager & Chairman of the CCTV User Group at the Council.

Such technology has been a regular feature across industry media since COVID-19 begun, but clearly there continues to be a use-case for it. Mask detection analytics at entrances can send automated alerts to staff if an individual is detected flouting the rules, which allows for officers to be more appropriately placed around a store.

If integrated with a customer feedback system, the software might also help reduce the number of incidents that require intervention. With security officers no longer the ‘first line of defence’ against those intent on flouting the rules, de-escalation processes may be required a little less frequently.

Neil believes that the software will have long-reaching benefits, too. Though the use of masks past the next 12 months in public spaces and private stores will remain to be seen, occupancy management is likely to be more important than ever. Whether it is spectators returning to sports stadiums or concert halls, the long-term impact of a global pandemic may continue to put health and safety at the forefront of public minds.

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