Screening Entry Screenings
Attractions are all about fun and escaping reality. But before getting to the fun, visitors often have to submit to the sobering reality of screening procedures at front gates.
Security screenings typically include sending guests through metal detectors, checking bags by hand or using X-ray-like screening devices, and using handheld wands to perform secondary checks. These screening processes can be labor-intensive and intrusive, and they require employees to get close to patrons.
Many attractions have sought ways to reduce the amount of contact between their security screening staff and guests. Funworld takes a look at technologies available to keep guests and employees safe.
Since security screenings can often generate long lines and by their nature place security staff in close proximity to guests, Massachusetts-based Evolv Technology developed a contact-free security screening system that mitigates these concerns using new technologies. According to Anil Chitkara, Evolv’s founder and head of corporate development, its system incorporates advanced sensors and a machine learning algorithm that enables it to distinguish between threats, such as firearms and explosive devices, from everyday personal items, like keys and phones.
“We can quickly and very accurately screen people,” he says, adding that Evolv’s Express system has a throughput of 3,600 people per hour. “We are using technology to automate some of the rote aspects of security screening.”
Visitors can walk through the detection units at a normal pace and in groups. They don’t have to empty their pockets, nor do they have to surrender their bags. When the system identifies something concerning, it alerts staff with a picture of the guest and the precise location of a pocket or bag to be searched.
“We are manually checking 20% of our visitors that we scan,” says Anthony Rivera, vice president of guest experience and hospitality at Georgia Aquarium. Before the facility installed the Evolv system in 2016, its security staff had been checking 100% of visitors’ bags. Instead of assigning six employees to screen guests, the aquarium now uses two: one to oversee the system and one for the occasional bag checks. The process is significantly quicker. “The speed is important to us,” adds Rivera. “Before COVID-19, we were welcoming 2.5 million people per year on average.”
Several months ago, Six Flags and Hersheypark revamped their entry screening processes and added Evolv Express. Jason White, managing director of corporate safety and security at Hershey Entertainment & Resorts, reports similar labor savings. He also notes that many guests don’t even realize they are being screened.
“Guests welcome how rapid and unobtrusive the process is while making them feel even safer. Our security professionals enjoy how easy it is to learn and use the system,” White says.
While attractions have been taking guest temperature as a part of screening, either with or near security, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a fever is just one symptom of COVID-19.
“The phrase ‘health theater’ is really applicable to these systems,” says John Honovich, president and founder of IPVM, one of the leading organizations that tests, researches, and reports on the video surveillance industry, including thermal imaging cameras.
New York’s Soter Technologies offers SymptomSense, a screening device that quickly analyzes heart rate, oxygen level, and respiration rate in addition to body temperature. Derek Peterson, the company’s CEO, says that by combining the vital signs, its system can more accurately determine whether an individual has symptoms that suggest COVID-19. “Most people don’t know that blood oxygen level is a much better indicator than temperature to determine if somebody is having issues,” Peterson believes. “Some people with COVID-19 feel fine but have very low blood oxygen levels.”
Testing in Two Minutes
Instead of trying to screen for symptoms such as elevated temperatures, Honovich recommends attractions focus on actual coronavirus testing. That’s the tact that former Disney Imagineer Eddie Sotto is taking.
Now president of the design firm, SottoStudios, he is on a crusade to develop an easy-to-administer COVID-19 testing system that could yield accurate results in about two minutes. That way, attractions could prevent visitors who have the disease from entering their gates and assure guests that they could safely enjoy a fun experience in a protected environment.
“We have to build reassurance.” Sotto says. “It’s going to be the answer that we’ve been looking for.”
At the time of writing, he was zeroing in on a digital breathalyzer-like device that would collect the data. Sotto wants to design his test in a way that would make it fun for guests to use and envisions a fanciful, media-enhanced experience that might incorporate colorful bubbles. He is hoping to roll out his product this spring.
Like Sotto, innovators around the world are continuing to develop new technologies and find solutions to operational challenges in the industry.
Arthur Levine covers the attractions industry for USA Today and authors Funworld’s “The Art of Attractions” column each month.