The New Age of Security

The New Age of Security

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Samantha Flores
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Samantha Flores

The New Age of Security: Technology in a Post-Pandemic World

For architects, the rapid spread of COVID-19 creates challenges on current building typologies, how people interact in and experience public spaces, and how people understand the value of place.

The pandemic has raised new questions on what it means to design for a world that is forever changed and what safety looks like in these places. Whereas issues of security are primarily concerned with mass shootings, unauthorized visitors, harassment, violence, theft, and vandalism, world events now require that we plan for a future where the safety of individuals and communities are also defined by protecting the health and well-being of its citizens.

Global economies and social dealings have made us especially vulnerable to the quick spread of viruses and other contagions while also making it difficult to implement the solutions to contain these threats once exposed. Designing for an invisible enemy that could quickly and quietly threaten the safety and security of our modern world has prompted designers to investigate the implications for architecture, including questions on how the built environment can detect and respond to threats to our public health. The call on architecture is not new — responsible, human design has always asked for design solutions and spaces where users feel safe. The pandemic, however, fundamentally confronts public spaces and challenges designers to creatively adapt to not only reduce viral spread but also to re-establish communal trust in these places.

The answer is not simple. Rather, any successful response to this historic change in our global culture will be layered and fraught with trial and error. Our core relationship to our built environment requires design to look ahead to a continually evolving definition of what it means to be and feel safe — anticipating the next iteration of threat on our collective security while preserving and even amplifying a more personal experience. Deeply invested in these issues, design has the potential to embrace the ways our society and lives have changed both on account of this pandemic and before it to offer spaces that restore our sense of stability and community.

Novel technologies and the world of big data have not only made possible several necessary accommodations in a post-COVID world — remote work, on-demand delivery services, contagion tracking — but have also provided powerful tools for solutions that make possible a safer, healthier world.

Already headed toward an increasingly seamless world where everything is at your fingertips, the COVID-19 pandemic has required that seamlessness now take on a touchless capability. From contactless doorstep delivery of your groceries to virtual telehealth appointments, security in the modern world has an expanded scope that is much more concerned with creating and sustaining the security of personal space. Lessons from the COVID-19 outbreak not only challenge us to reconsider social norms such as shaking hands but also demand that responsibly designed spaces support our new best practices — minimizing touchpoints and providing options that maintain the humanity of our experiences while mitigating the risks of person-to-person contact.

Biometrics offers a powerful tool to use unique features such as a person’s speech, fingerprints, gait, or facial features to instantly identify and often personalize the built environment and user experience. For instance, biometric processing can provide building access, serve as payment methods, or be used for surveillance or targeted marketing without the use of a license, wallet, or key fob. Biometric processing points at airports — convenient, secure, and touchless — have begun to transform the passenger journey from curbside and TSA checkpoints to retail concessions and boarding at the gate; they offer models for larger-scale adoption.

As we became more aware of covering our coughs, keeping six feet apart from each other, and donning masks, biometrics offers the potential of voice activation, facial recognition, and gestural technology to replace elevator buttons, keypads, switches, and doorknobs. Removing bottlenecks caused by gatekeepers or analog functions, these technologies can also keep traffic moving, reduce congestion, and prevent lengthy queues.

Biometrics has become increasingly popular for its ability to personalize experiences. For instance, at airports, facial recognition paired with push notifications can alert passengers when and where to board, suggest tailored concessions, and even help people connect to lodging and ground transit information.

These types of personal user experiences within the built environment can be managed through a building’s digital twin, a highly complex virtual model that is the exact counterpart of the physical environment. A digital twin gathers data from seemingly infinite points in the physical environment — lights, doors, HVAC systems, behavior patterns, and much more — to improve decision-making, preventive building maintenance, and responses to changing demands. These models not only have a communication platform with the users of the space, responding to commands in real time, but also permit building-to-building communication. These buildings “learn” from one another through a complex network of advanced analytics, machine-learning, and artificial intelligence, working together to glean real-time insights. Digital twins provide a powerful understanding of how people engage with the built environment while identifying opportunities and patterns for increased efficiencies and quicker responses to pain points and potential challenges.

The digital twin can monitor indoor health and safety by providing information on air quality, precision maintenance, targeted cleaning, and potential operational improvements for better safety and hygiene. In times of pandemic, a digital twin of a large public space, such as an airport, office, or a school, could simulate safe escort routes in the event that someone is found to be infected, provide adaptations to the environment for isolation, put maintenance protocols into place, and alert building occupants of any temporary changes in building access points — all without the need to build permanently isolated circulation routes into the physical space. On a larger scale, digital city twins can tap into Internet of Things, or IoT, systems and public databases to simulate disaster readiness — a tool that helped Singapore manage the pandemic by monitoring foot traffic and building occupancy.

Dynamic real-time data from digital twins empowers better decision-making, improved monitoring and maintenance, and faster responses to building and user needs. / Credit: Corgan

Large volumes of data, uninterrupted connectivity, massive storage, and the bandwidth needed to keep current and emerging technologies operating can overwhelm existing networks. When fully realized, digital twins and biometrically enabled public spaces that gather and analyze data points for 3 billion people and countless built environments will require a new framework for managing data.

Our world runs on the internet. We use it to keep our social networks running, stay connected at work, and shop for groceries. Our dependency and demand grow as we see the potential of new technologies to mitigate biological threats and explore their capacity to provide a solution to our world’s current pandemic. From tracking viral outbreaks in real time to expanding the services we need to support our new normal, our need to connect anytime, anywhere is more important than ever.

The round-the-clock exchange of information over Zoom calls and social media and an infinite world of smartphone applications that bring your favorite restaurants and studio workouts into the control of your home create an insatiable need for data — fast, reliable data.

But latency, introduced by the distance from remote data centers, hampers the way we live and do business. COVID-19 has reshaped how we work, eat, learn, socialize, and practice self-care. More and more facets of our lives are being brought into the home in a hyper-personalized and on-demand fashion, popularizing food and grocery delivery, workout videos and apps, digital classrooms, and virtual choirs, concerts, and happy hours. The global response to COVID-19, as well as our sense of safety, has hinged on our access to data and the internet.

In the race for more connectivity at faster speeds for more parts of our life, edge data solutions have the capability to distribute high-performance computing closer to the end user. Scalable, smaller footprints embedded throughout dense urban locations or deployed in remote areas also help democratize the infrastructure we need.

The scale, complexity, and urgency of today’s global problems, as shown by the pandemic, do not lend themselves to easy answers. Instead, these technologies provide the tools for agility and to preserve the cultural value of places. Empathetic design must consider and anticipate evolving expectations, fears, and anxieties about using public spaces and our changing definition of safety and security in the wake of COVID-19.

Our world will never be the same. COVID-19 has radically tested the foundation of community and the spaces that bring us together — places that were designed to encourage face-to-face connection and remove barriers to exploring what makes us human. Reintroducing these spaces into our new cultural vocabulary after months of sheltering in place and social distancing provides a powerful opportunity for design to do what it does best — adapt. And, where the future seems uncertain and the impact of this pandemic is still to be fully realized, these technologies give design the tools we need to be agile and stay human.

With an insatiable demand for data, Corgan and TMGcore’s conceptual designs for the new data center—a tenth of traditional sizing—offers greater computing capacity while reducing latency and expanding deployment. / Credit: Corgan


Samantha Flores, AIA, NCARB, RID is the director of Hugo, a research and innovation team at Corgan.