Guarding the Games

Biometrics already lending a hand for 2012 London Olympics

Construction sites are fiercely regulated environments in the United Kingdom, under a program called the Construction Skills Certification Scheme. At these sites, CSCS accreditation is tied to employee biometric details. At many construction sites, only workers with a CSCS card can be employed. The Olympic venues in London fall into this group.

“Munich changed everything,” said Larry Buendorf, chief security officer for the United States Olympic Committee for the past 14 years and, previously, a 21-year veteran with the Secret Service. “As each security incident occurs in this world, it changes how you go about your regular, day-to-day business. You use these security incidents as a learning tool.”

Evolving Standards
The use of biometrics has grown with each successive Olympic Games. After protecting athletes at the 1984 Los Angeles games, hand geometry readers have been a feature of access control at subsequent Olympic Games. In previous Olympics, athletes and others with official credentials were given identification badges with bar codes. Badge-swapping was common— while the authenticity of the badge could be verified, there was no way to tell if the person wearing it was the one to whom it was issued.

Biometrics Keep Tabs On Workers at Asian Construction Site

Solution Expert Technology of Hong Kong implemented a biometric-based system using 90 hand readers to control access to all six entrances at a construction site that has become the Venetian Macao, the anchor of a Las Vegas-style strip in Asia.

“Protecting projects from theft and keeping people from getting hurt on construction sites are always a top concern,” said Tony Yuen, COO of Solution Expert Technology. “In Macao, strict labor and safety laws that prevent illegal workers and workers without safety training from entering construction sites make strict access control even more urgent. General contractors who violate these laws receive heavy penalties when they are caught.”

According to Yuen, contractors are increasingly turning to biometric hand geometry technology to help them quickly give access to authorized workers and accurately deny entry to people who should not be on-site. With hand readers, a worker’s permit and safety training records, along with expiration dates, can be entered into a database that not only verifies an employee’s identity, but instantly checks to see if that employee is authorized to be there.

At the Venetian Macao, the site was so big that there were concerns that cables would be consistently cut. So data was sent wirelessly, using an 802.11 wireless router. Solution Expert Technology has written time and attendance software for both Chinese and English users that interfaces seamlessly with the hand readers. Similar systems are used at more than 100 construction sites operated by several of the largest construction companies in Hong Kong. At the Venetian Macao site, turnstiles were posted at each entrance. Officials created a dual system with hand reader terminals on both sides, allowing the same turnstile to be used by workers either entering or exiting a site. A contactless smart card, typically kept in a hip pocket, called up a stored biometric template, which then was immediately validated by the employee’s hand on the hand reader terminal.

Timekeeping information for the employee instantly was transmitted to a central office wirelessly. Everyone entering the site, from employees to outside subcontractors and vendors, was required to use the hand readers for access.

The hand readers themselves were protected by weatherproof stainless steel housings equipped with red and green indicator lights. One set of battery-powered turnstiles could serve up to 300 workers who entered and exited the site up to six times a day. That meant one set of turnstiles could handle 1,800 transactions per day while still quickly and efficiently providing both timekeeping and access control functions.

“The portability of our solutions is a key selling point,” Yuen said. “Site entrances are temporary and often moved every three to four weeks. Our turnstile solutions are made to be easily towed from entrance to entrance and site-to-site.

“With the hand reader turnstiles, the construction company can now directly pay all workers, whether they have been hired by subcontractors or not, eliminating potential contract disputes and giving construction companies greater control over their budgets. They also have daily access to accurate reports about overall payroll costs. The hand reader terminals also ensure that every person entering a construction site holds a valid safety card and has completed an eight-hour mandatory safety training class.”

By the time the 1996 Atlanta games ended, hand geometry tracked 65,000 people, providing more than 1 million transactions in 28 days. It also secured the athletes’ dormitories at Georgia Tech. That Olympics was the first wide-scale deployment of ID cards linked to hand geometry readers through radio frequencies. Each card contained a chip that stored an ID number and a digital template of the person’s hand to whom the badge was issued. As a person approached high-security access points, such as those into the Olympic Village, the RF chip transmitted the image and number. A computer recorded the number so the person’s entry and exit could be tracked.

Meanwhile, the person placed a hand on a hand geometry reader that compared a 3- D geometric image of the hand with the image sent by the ID card. If the two didn’t match, access was denied. The process took only a few seconds.

Since then, however, terrorists have become more sophisticated. For instance, in 2004, a bomb that exploded during a parade killed the president of Chechnya. The device had been planted well in advance of the event.

Knowing that terrorists can plan ahead, the biometrics used in Atlanta already are being used in London—at construction sites creating the 2012 London games venues. However, in the United Kingdom, most of these Olympic construction sites would probably be protected in the same way—even if they weren’t being planned for the games. In other words, security has commenced more than five years before the games themselves actually begin, but in a de facto way. That’s because these are not the only construction sites in the United Kingdom using hand geometry.

An Outdated System
Many might not be aware that the construction industry within the United Kingdom is the country’s single largest employer, with more than 2.2 million employees. While the industry is rapidly growing, it continues to suffer from poor access control at construction sites, litigation costs of health and safety violations, buddy-punching and overcharging by contractors. At any given time, major construction companies have multiple construction sites with a large number of stakeholders involved in construction and development work.

To maintain adequate security, access to the sites historically has been granted using a card-based system. Security officers would verify the credentials of employees against their cards and make manual entries into the register. Gaining access to the construction site was a laborious process, and unsupervised access using smart cards allowed workers to clock in and out for each other.

The large number of stakeholders made it difficult for project managers to control access to sites, know who was on-site and determine if they had the necessary credentials to be there. As a consequence, there was the potential of site security being compromised, unnecessary overheads due to litigation costs on health and safety violations, buddy-punching and incorrect payments to contractors.

The industry turned to Human Recognition Systems, a privately held UK company based in Liverpool that specializes in developing and delivering solutions that identify people and their behaviors. Established in 2002, HRS is recognized by industry experts as a leading biometric, identity management consulting and system integration company. The firm’s biometric information management system incorporates biometrics with management software platforms, allowing managers in the construction industry to perform a variety of functions specifically designed to address key industry concerns regarding health and safety details, CSCS accreditation, site access and report generation.

Minimizing Ghost Working
“ The adoption of biometric technology by construction firms delivers many key benefits by positively proving the identity of individuals on site, and it eliminates the potential for ghost working, a longstanding issue within the industry,” said Lee Hannis, business development manager at HRS. Ghost working is the practice of registering multiple identities on a site.

Employees often ghost work by using their friends and colleagues to use a swipe or proximity card, which does not necessarily guarantee the presence of an individual onsite— only that their card has turned up for work. By using a biometric reader to control access and egress from a site, a construction company can maintain control of its cost base and only pay people who actually turn up.

“We are delighted to see this kind of real value being delivered to the businesses we work with,” Hannis said. “Our approach to all biometric projects is to identify the business requirements and only integrate biometrics if true value can be derived from the system.”

Of course, ghost workers could just as well be people with bad intentions. Today, access to many construction sites, including those that will be Olympic venues, is granted by verifying the credentials of employees against their biometric hand geometry templates. Upon hiring, the worker is enrolled in the system by placing a hand onto the platen of the hand reader and being provided with a PIN. Then, to enter the work site, the worker simply enters the PIN on the keyboard of the hand geometry unit and then places a hand on the reader’s plate. If the hand matches the template from the system, the worker is allowed to enter. Each transaction is recorded by the system and provides project managers with accurate information on the number of workers on-site, duration of stay and other information.

“This is a really exciting development for us, and rarely before have we seen such a compelling fit of biometric technology to a specific industry problem. With such outstanding benefits, we certainly expect to see many more implementations of this type in the future,” said Simon Appleton, security solutions manager.

An Early Adopter
One of the United Kingdom’s largest construction companies, Carillion, was among the first to use the new system, recognizing an increasing need to maintain and improve health and safety standards on building sites. With 17,000 employees, Carillion provides a broad range of business, transport and construction services to commercial and public sector clients in the United Kingdom, France, Sweden, Canada and the Middle East.

Their previous systems using swipe card technology were flawed, only reporting a card’s presence on-site, not that of an actual person. Further problems also were encountered with poor reliability of equipment in wet and dusty conditions. The technology must often withstand harsh outdoor conditions and changeable biometrics due to scarring, burns or dirt. These obstacles have been overcome with outdoor biometric readers, an application in which hand geometry readers excel. And now, at the touch of a button, Carillion site managers and other contractors using the system can print a list of exactly who is present at an emergency or site evacuation.

“The selection of the biometric is crucial in these conditions,” Hannis said. “It is our job to make sure that 2,000-plus construction workers trying to get home after a long day can leave the site without unnecessary delay.”

From use as a security tool at the Olympics to a method of monitoring construction worker access in the United Kingdom, biometric hand reader technology clearly is a wave of the future for the security industry.

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