February 2009

Innovations in Comfort, Efficiency, and Safety Solutions.

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Count Me In: People Counters
A Simple System for Essential Building Data

Jim Sinopoli PE, RCDD
Managing Principal,
Smart Buildings
Contributing Editor

“Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.”
Albert Einstein

The operation of a high performing building essentially depends on generating the data on what’s happening within the building and turning that data into actionable information in order to manage the building. Without the data and actionable information building managers are “flying blind”, just reacting to problems as they occur. One of the most under-valued and simple systems that can provide hard data on how a building is being used is a people counting system. The simple act of counting people entering or exiting buildings or spaces within a building can provide very valuable data, which can have a number of different uses. What follows is an overview of how that people counts can be beneficially used and how people counter systems operate.

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Using People Counts to Create Actionable InformationUsing People Counts to Create Actionable Information
Knowing how many people have entered a building or a space is directly related to a financial or management objective for the building. Here’s a partial list of some of the actionable information that can be created:

  • Access Control - One of the typical issues with access control systems is “tailgating” or “piggybacking”. Tailgating is when someone with a valid access card enters a building but is immediately followed by an unauthorized person before the door closes. A people counting system would accurately detect ‘tailgaters’, helping prevent unauthorized access, resulting in a higher level of security and less theft.

  • Life Safety – Knowing the number of people leaving buildings in the event of an emergency evacuation and the number of people who had entered the building is valuable data for first emergency responders.

  • Financial Metrics of Retail Stores - The origins of people counting systems are probably in the retail sector and large venues (theme parks, stadiums, etc.). Retail stores can easily correlate foot traffic into the store with the store’s business metrics, answering questions such as:

  • What’s the conversion rate of foot traffic to buyers?

  • What’s the average revenue per person entering the store?

  • What are the seasonal traffic patterns?

  • How do similar stores in different locations compare?

  • How can the number of sales staff be optimized to the number and patterns of people entering a store?

  • What’s the impact of a sales event on foot traffic?

  • What’s the impact of new opening hours?

Reliable Controls Devices
When you mention people counters many people think of someone standing at a door with some clicker in their hand, manually counting people entering a building. The two types of current people counting devices used today are thermal or video imaging technology.

Thermal imaging devices, the more traditional approach, sense a person’s body heat, actually the thermal image of a person body heat compared to the background thermal image. The people being counted have no sensation from the counting device and no lost of identity (that’s left to the video surveillance and access control systems). The thermal imaging is not affected by lighting or other conditions. Typically devices are mounted from 8 to 15 feet high. The devices are relatively low cost and can be easily installed. The device contains a sensor, imaging optics, a signal processor and some type of networking interface to connect to other devices or the main administration terminal. Multiple devices can be used for larger width door openings and can be programmed to avoid double-counting, essentially acting as one device.

Video imaging typically uses small cameras with an auto-iris lens and video analytics to count and differentiate between people entering and exiting a building or space. It is not unusual to find the people counting capability as an add-on module of a video surveillance system.

Counting people entering and exiting a building or facility is very basic data that every facility manager, property manager and owner should have. It’s not difficult or expensive to install a system and the data generated is easily understandable and can be used in many ways. It’s a key component to optimize operational planning and analyze business trends.

For more information about smart buildings, technology design or to schedule a Continuing Education program, email me at jsinopoli@smart-buildings.com




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