FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Fort Rucker will soon bring to bear a new and valuable asset in its fight against COVID-19 to protect its people, its mission and its surrounding communities.
That asset is a thermal-imaging system that presents a safer way for operators to screen for elevated body temperatures of people entering military facilities, according to Lt. Col. (Dr.) Kevin Cummings, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence command surgeon.
Officials plan to initially employ the system at the commissary, the post exchange and Bldg. 5700, the Soldier Service Center, Cummings said, adding that the systems are part of the Army’s overall response to the COVID-19 pandemic and are already operational at the Pentagon and other Army installations, such as Fort Belvoir, Virginia, and Fort Benning, Georgia.
These stand-off thermal imaging capabilities provide significant advantages over hand-held thermometers, as they provide a safe distance between the operators and subjects, and require less manpower, according to U.S. Army Rapid Equipping Force, Program Executive Office Soldier officials who head the project. The technology, which does not require physical contact, processes information quickly, allowing a faster flow of traffic into buildings and facilities. Screening only takes a few seconds to measure temperature at a distance of six to eight feet, using a forward looking infrared sensor mounted on a tripod. If an elevated temperature is detected, individuals receive a secondary screening with a non-contact forehead thermometer. If a secondary screening confirms an elevated temperature, the individual will be encouraged to seek further screening with a medical provider.
That six- to eight-feet distance means a lot in keeping both operators and facility visitors safe, Cummings said.
“The scanner allows the temperature of a person to be taken without the temperature taker standing face to face with the person,” he said. “Even when wearing masks, standing face to face increases the risk to both the operator and the visitor of transmitting the infection.”
While some people’s knee-jerk reaction may be to balk at having a thermal-imaging system pointed at them to enter a facility, the system is perfectly safe and no information is gathered by the system, Cummings said.
“Unlike an X-ray machine, it is not radiating any energy – it is simply reading the infrared energy a person is emitting,” he said. “There are no increased risks to a person. It is like having a photograph taken. Having your temperature taken is currently a requirement for anyone entering facilities on post that are high risk because of the high traffic flow in those buildings. The scanner is the safest way to take a temperature for everyone.”
The garrison commander feels the system will also help Fort Rucker accelerate reopening facilities.
“This is a different adversary that we’re fighting and the fight is not over yet. We will use every asset at our disposal to keep our people safe, and protect our mission and our surrounding communities,” said Col. Whitney B. Gardner. “This thermal-imaging system helps us do just that. It also boosts our confidence in the protection measures we’ve taken. This is a valuable tool to use in this fight and will play an important role in getting our facilities operational sooner rather than later.”
Fort Rucker personnel are currently training on employing and operating the system, and it could be deployed as soon as Monday, Gardner added.