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Location analytics for COVID-safe workplaces

Most contact tracing apps rely on Bluetooth to track people who test positive for COVID-19 and those they’ve been near.  One company’s solution, however, uses existing private Wi-Fi networks to allow government agencies and other organizations to map and track contacts within their buildings or campuses -- and without putting apps on individual devices.

The digital contact tracing platform created by Acquired Data Solutions (ADS) and Kiana Analytics is like putting a flashlight on dark data and converting it into actionable information, said Kiana CEO Nader Fathi. The dark data is the signals a device, such as a smartphone or laptop computer, sends to a building’s Wi-Fi access points.

The data has three key elements: a device ID number or MAC address, which is a unique identifier on all Wi-Fi equipment; the time of the ping; and the location of the ping. This information enables the tracking of people’s movements and dwell time -- or how long they remain in one area -- inside the building.

“These device IDs can really act as employee data,” said ADS President Steven Seiden. “The device ID really is no different than if you can imagine giving your company your Social Security number or your driver’s license number.”

Additionally, government employees often use government-issued devices, so agencies already have the number in their employee data, he added. Only the agency sees the connection between device ID and that person’s name. When an employee gets a positive coronavirus test result and reports it to human resources, for example, HR can use the digital contact tracing solution to pull up the person’s device ID number and see what other devices that person was near for at least 15 minutes in recent days. Then, HR can contact those device users to send them home to quarantine.

The solution would also allow agency managers to see which areas of the building are in need of deep, or surgical, cleaning -- the zones and floors where the infected person spent several hours. The solution can also create a heat map that shows where people tend to cluster in the building so managers can rearrange those spaces to promote distancing and decrease viral spread.

“We do not put any special software on the Wi-Fi-enabled devices” or on the access points, Fathi said. “All we require is for the device to be on.”

The companies work with multiple Wi-Fi vendors, such as Cisco Systems and Fortinet.

Setup is quick, Fathi said, and happens in two stages. First, organizations connect their Wi-Fi access points to Kiana’s cloud-based systems. Then they map the device IDs to employees’ names by connecting with Active Directory.

“The data is there. All we’re doing is turning on a spigot to get it over to the cloud,” Seiden said. “The data is already being stored by the access points, and that data is actually being dumped. We’re just turning on the faucet a little bit differently so that data now goes to analytics in the cloud.”

The data that the platform collects remains within the agency and is not visible to Kaina or ADS to protect personally identifiable information and comply with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act regulations on health data.

Built on Kiana’s Site Management solution, the contact tracing platform has uses beyond the pandemic, Fathi said. For example, it can be used for physical security, such as identifying employees who show up at off-hours or in parts of the building where they’re not allowed. Additionally, it can be used for site, or facility, management to see how much use certain areas of the building get. That ties into smart technology, said Sebastian Andreatta, a Kiana co-founder who manages marketing.

“This is really about making a facility, a site, a campus smart,” he said.

Kiana is also working with Customs and Border Patrol on border management in areas with little to no customs agents, such as marinas in South Florida or remote areas near Canada. The solution enables remote interviewing of people over Wi-Fi at crossings and docks. Visitors log in and talk to a customs agent remotely -- an extra bonus during the pandemic.

The company is in the fourth phase of deploying the technology, which involves security testing. Next is deployment at border points with Canada.

About the Author

Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.

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