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HKBU rolls out COVID-19 alert system

Image Credits: HKBU, Press Release

Researchers from Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) have developed a COVID-19 alert system that will send a message to users through a mobile app if they and an infected person have visited the same place within a period that gives rise to risks of exposure.

The system will not collect users’ personal information and location data, thereby protecting individuals’ privacy while alerting them on disease transmission risks associated with confirmed infection cases.

HKBU plans to launch a trial run of the system on campus in the new semester to enhance COVID-19 risks alert capability inside campus venues and during teaching and learning activities. Staff and students can join the trial voluntarily.

Developed by a research team led by the Associate Head and Professor of the Department of Computer Science at HKBU, the system has two anonymous modes of operation: venue-to-person tracing and person-to-person tracing. The system is easy to operate and users can simply use it by downloading the mobile application.

By taking a decentralised design approach, the system, which has been developed in four months, will not collect any personal information and location data. It is a safe and reliable system that uses the latest cryptographic technology to protect users’ privacy. It also includes a mechanism that prevents users from falsely claiming that they are one of the contacts of a confirmed case.

Under the venue-to-person tracing mode, when users scan the QR code before entering the venue, the venue information and the time of visit will be saved onto their mobiles. If a user tests positive for the virus, he will receive a password to log on to the system, which will then broadcast the information, including the venues he has visited and the visiting times in the past 14 days, to all users’ mobiles.

The system will send an alert to the users through their mobile phones if they and the infected user have visited the same place in the same period in the past two weeks. This will enable users to take appropriate action, including virus tests.

The person-to-person tracing mode is supported by Bluetooth Low Energy, a wireless communication technology. If two users stay within two meters of each other for a certain period, their mobile phones will exchange an anonymous code via Bluetooth and then save it in the respective phone’s database. The anonymous code associated with each user’s mobile phone will change regularly.

If a user tests positive for the virus, the other users’ mobile phones will receive the codes broadcast by the infected user’s mobile phone over the past two weeks. By comparing the codes in the database of the mobile phone, the system can assess the risk for each user that came into contact with the infected person, and set off the alarm if necessary.

Users’ privacy is well protected because all the information is stored on an individual’s mobile phone. HKBU plans to launch a trial run of the venue-to-person tracing mode of the alert system on campus. The experience of launching the system, including the lessons learned throughout the technological development process and in terms of encouraging members of the University and visitors to use the system, will help the Government and relevant organisations combat the pandemic.

The Vice-President (Research and Development) of HKBU stated since the early stages of the pandemic, HKBU has been boosting various research projects related to the virus research projects and the development of this alert system is one of the results.

The system can effectively warn people who have been in contact with a confirmed case, but it does not collect personal information. It strikes a balance between disease prevention and privacy protection.

As the global pandemic is not yet at its end, the team will make efforts to collaborate with the Government and the relevant departments to help society by transferring the University’s research and contributing to the fight against the pandemic in Hong Kong.

CEM tech is a must

The COVID-19 pandemic has drawn attention to the urgent need for better crisis management technologies. According to Everbridge, an effective Critical Event Management program and strategy is an integrated, end-to-end process that enables organisations to significantly speed up responses to critical events and improve outcomes by mitigating or eliminating the impact of a threat.

This CEM system would mean that business continuity, disaster recovery, active assailant, emergency response, natural disaster, IT incident risk management, and mass notification would all be rolled up into an easy-to-execute, strategic plan with long-term benefits.

In May 2020, Everbridge hosted Coronavirus: the Road to Recovery on May 20th and 21st – a virtual symposium that brought together business, healthcare, and government leaders to discuss best practices of return to work. It was designed to help organisations around the world chart a path forward.

The event gathered nearly 20 executive speakers from major multinational organisations. Speakers addressed the needs of executive-level decision-makers in areas related to security, operations, risk, human resources, clinical operations, emergency management, and supply chain.

Critical event management has come to the fore with the pandemic. Forecasting, planning and management of such events help organisations prevent disruption of life and damage to property.

Everbridge Critical Event Management solutions can make a significant difference in mitigating harm caused by such critical events. They provide richer intelligence and correlating threats with locations of assets and people ensuring more rapid and comprehensive incident assessment and remediation.

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