When landlords first starteddeploying keycard access systems in their buildings, security andefficiencies were significant drivers.

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If those early adopters couldhave glanced into a crystal ball, they would have no doubt beensurprised to know that there may be an additional advantage tothese investments—the potential to curtail the spread ofdisease.

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"We can utilize our buildingsystems to react with precision in identifying and addressingoutbreaks," according to a DWS Group whitepaper on ESG investing inreal estate in a post-COVID world. 

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"Building systems such as keycardaccess, security, elevator systems and building sensors, provideinformation on contact points for suspected and confirmed cases andalso can help to map the exposure path. Using this information, wecan focus on the buildings and areas at risk in order to protectour tenants/residents and staff."

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Sensors and access systems canalso reduce the number of surfaces people touch. "It is reallyabout creating this contact-free environment to reduce thepotential common areas where people are touching," says JessicaElengical, head of ESG Strategy, Alternatives at DWS.

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While recent CDC guidance hasdownplayed the ability of COVID-19 to be transferred via surfaces,there's little doubt that the fewer familiar places people touch,the better. In its report, DWS says, "sensor-based technologies canobviate the need to manually open doors, swipe badges and touchelevator buttons."

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Sensors seem like a bettersolution than the current option to limit the spread of germs."It's a long term and more foolproof system than just putting handsanitizers everywhere, which is one of the early approaches ofdoing this [limiting the spread of COVID]," Elengicalsays.

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In more sophisticated systems,which have been employed in some Asian countries, sensors can alsobe used to check the temperatures of people who enter a building.But privacy concerns accompany that technology.

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"Infrared based sensortechnologies could be deployed in building lobbies as the firstline of defense to help screen for visitors with fevers," DWS saidin the white paper. "However, the use of data may also raiseimportant questions around data privacy and security, and it willbe important to maintain strong cybersecurity frameworks and strikethe fine balance between the need for physical and digitalprotection."

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Automation and sensors can alsohelp reduce the spread of germs in retail settings. For instance,shops could introduce digital payment systems. "It's about reducingthe number of interactions with people and the number of thingsgetting passed between people," Elengical says.

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COVID-19 could also boost theadoption of technology that just scans an item when a shopperleaves a store. "You can walk into the store, buy things with thephone and walk out," Elengical says. "That all helps to reduce theamount of touching and interaction that can be difficult in thesetimes."

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Leslie Shaver

Les Shaver has been covering commercial and residential real estate for almost 20 years. His work has appeared in Multifamily Executive, Builder, units, Arlington Magazine in addition to GlobeSt.com and Real Estate Forum.