No Touch, Low Touch

No Touch, Low Touch

Guide for public buildings: find a way to eliminate the spread of germs

The global COVID-19 pandemic has made eliminating the spread of germs a critically important life-safety imperative. This is especially true for building owners/ managers and for those that specify, install and maintain the low voltage building systems used in those buildings, including automatic doors and access control systems.

Whether it be an office, hospital, university campus or industrial plant, compliance requires either eliminating manual door activation, for example a hand pressing a switch or using a handle to open a door, and replacing with an automated “no-touch” solution or, when that isn’t desired or possible, enabling the manual door activation to be done with another part of the body (i.e., arm, elbow, hip, knee or foot), which is referred to as a manual ‘low-touch’ solution.

It should be remembered that although the urgency of employing no-touch solutions has skyrocketed in 2020, many of the best solutions now being deployed were actually developed long before the COVID- 19 pandemic occurred. Industry manufacturers, such as Camden Door Controls, have invested heavily in no-touch technology, including motion sensors and wireless systems. This was partly to serve specialty applications, such as switches to eliminate germs in operating rooms, but also to provide the added benefits of much greater convenience for all building occupants, as well as enhanced ADA compliance for persons with disabilities.

The review of no-touch and low-touch solutions below will provide a quick guide to “best practices” for eliminating the spread of germs in public buildings, including activation devices installed on entrance and egress doors, washroom doors and interior partition doors.

Touchless Switches

The use of touchless switches (also referred to as “no-touch” or “hands-free” switches) to activate automatic door operators or de-energize locking devices is increasing at an unprecedented rate. It’s very likely that touchless switches could become more common than push plate switches in the not too distant future.

There are several different sensor technologies being offered by touchless switch manufacturers, including microwave and capacitive sensors, but the most common technology is active infrared. This technology has proven to be the best choice due to a low manufacturing cost, easy adjustability and a high degree of reliability across all applications.

This is not to say that all infrared touchless switches are created equal. There are important differences in switch design, features, and performance that system specifiers and installers need to know before selecting the switch that is best for their application.

Let’s start with the design of the infrared sensor itself. Having the lowest current draw means saving energy over the life of the switch but it will also enable battery operated models to last a long time. This is why Camden Door Controls developed infrared ‘micro- burst’ technology. This patented design greatly reduces the power requirement of the switch (by cycling and minimizing power to the switch sensor) and allows ‘SureWave™ battery powered touchless switches to last up to two years with common alkaline batteries, and up to four years using lithium batteries.

When we think of battery life, we typically assume that a device is wireless. Although this is true in most cases, some manufacturers do also offer a battery-operated touchless switch with a wired relay contact. This switch design is ideal for replacing a non-powered manual switch with a sensor switch in a matter of minutes.

The selection of a smart touchless switch is also an important consideration. A smart switch has inputs for a REX detector/ switch and door contact (required for restroom control and other door control applications). Smart switch functionality can save the installer hundreds of dollars by avoiding unnecessary equipment costs and installation labor.

Another important consideration is the decision to select a hard-wired touchless switch vs. a wireless switch. Wireless touchless switches provide cost savings on virtually any project but provide the greatest benefit when running wireless is time consuming or impractical.

Request-to-Exit Detectors

Passive infrared REX detectors are specialized motion detectors that are typically used to shunt an access control alarm when a building occupant exits a door. They’re also able to facilitate door automation in a range of other applications.

REX detectors are designed to operate differently from PIR motion detectors used as part of an intrusion alarm system. The detection pattern is ‘targeted’ and easily directed with mechanical dampers, and the more advanced models on the market offer a number of value added features not found in ‘basic’ REX detector models.

Wireless Handheld Fobs

An alternative to installing a sensor device that will enable a door to open automatically is to provide each building occupant with a manual activation device that only they will use. The most common of these devices is a wireless key fob.

There are two types of receivers used in wireless systems; secure Wiegand wireless receivers that are used in access control systems, and non-secure relay output receivers used for general door activation.

As a rule, security fobs are used to prevent unauthorized building occupants from entering a doorway while ‘non-secure’ relay output receivers are designed to make it easier for any building occupant, including persons with disabilities, to enter a doorway.

Since the design of a non-secure fob and receiver are less complex to design and build, and they do not require an access control system to operate, ‘non-secure’ fobs are an affordable and highly reliable activation device to use in our fight to prevent the spread of germs.

Access Control Card Readers

As discussed above, secure hands-free access control devices, including key tags, fobs, and card readers, are an excellent way to eliminate the need to manually activate a door opening. In many cases, an access control system may already be installed in a facility and automating a door opening will only require a small system change to add this functionality.

The access control market is currently undergoing a major shift in the use of Bluetooth™ enabled mobile credentials – software applications that turn a smart phone into a secure credential that is recognized by an access control system. This is a low cost, easily maintained solution that eliminates the need for each building occupant to carry around a unique tag, fob or card.

‘State of the art’ manufacturers now offer mobile-ready card readers for use with any access control system, with the option to recognize system users with smart phone, key tag and card credentials on the same reader.

Low-Touch Push Plate Switches

It is not always necessary or even desirable to install a sensor, wireless receiver, or card reader to reduce the spread of germs. Any door activation device that can be operated without the need to touch the device with a hand can serve the same purpose. Thirty- six inch tall push plate switches are a good alternative because they can be easily operated with an arm, elbow, hip or foot.

Originally developed to comply with state and provincial building code requirements for high/low push plate switches (that are installed at the height of a hand and a wheelchair foot), 36” tall push plate switches are also able to contribute to the reduction in the spread of germs.

New Equipment Solutions

We are in the early days in our response to COVID-19. Virtually all of the low voltage device and system solutions that are currently on the market were introduced long before the pandemic became known.

All manufacturers are now investing heavily in the development of the next generation of equipment solutions that will aid us in our fight against the spread of germs. It is incumbent upon each of us to be informed of the latest initiatives and to actively participate in the adoption of practical new solutions that provide better health protection to building occupants.

This article originally appeared in the October 2020 issue of Security Today.

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