Last march, the potential spread of COVID-19 forced a halt to nearly all research within more than 600 lab and office spaces at the school of medicine. Each lab could designate no more than three essential personnel — including the principal investigator — to enter, work and maintain experiments, according to rules developed by leadership.
The rules excluded about half of the research community’s 3,687 members.
“It was a logistical nightmare,” recalls Geraldine Seydoux, vice dean for basic research at the school of medicine. “Keeping track of who was essential, which kept changing, was extremely difficult for us and for the security team members checking our people in. We were literally using printed lists and Post-it notes. There were bottlenecks of people waiting to get admitted.”
Seydoux and George Economas, executive director of security for Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, reached out to the Johns Hopkins Technology Innovation Center to design a better system. The team, racing to deliver a solution in time for the anticipated phase 1 reopening of labs in June, came up with Prodensity, an app that allows researchers and security to manage personnel occupancy in real time. Completed in two months, the project required setting up virtual communities for each of the 613 lab and office spaces and entering the personnel data of every staff member associated with them.
Based on available square-foot work areas and physical distancing requirements, Prodensity shows users how many allotted spaces are occupied and the name of each team member using them. Before leaving home for work, a researcher can check the app to make sure space is available to enter. If the app shows lab occupancy is full, the person can contact and remind the team member whose shift is up to leave. And if the team member forgot to check out, Prodensity can perform that task remotely.
At security checkpoints, researchers use the app camera on their mobile devices to scan a QR code that displays their photo and credentials. In seconds, security can confirm ID and allow them in.
Currently, the Technology Innovation Center team is working on improvements to the app that will include options for COVID-19 symptom checking, a campus pass, health resources, and alerts and notifications.
“After COVID-19, Prodensity will be especially helpful on nights and weekends,” says Economas. “If we ever have an emergency event where the building needs to be evacuated or we need to shelter in place, this gives us the ability to know where people are and communicate instructions.”