The entry security checkpoint into a protected venue, such as a museum, is one of the last lines of defense and deterrence in the security ring — it ensures people and their belongings are checked and cleared individually prior to gaining access into a facility. Bad actors and threat items that have not been caught by previous security rings — intelligence, commute, parking, and walkways, for example — will need to be cleared at this location. 

Figure 1 (1).jpgFigure 1: Security rings around a protected venue. Image courtesy of Qylur 

In the pre-pandemic period, classic security and operational planning required balancing the four Ds (deter, deny, delay and detect) as well as operational efficiencies, such as orderly line management and people flow. In addition, this ring often represents the first greeting of all guests, and as such aims to facilitate a respectful and positive guest experience. However, the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about an added layer of consideration to the balance: public health.

Advanced technologies such as automation and artificial intelligence (AI) can enable better efficiencies and self-service, but they can also minimize contact by security personnel, assist with social distancing and reduce unnecessary contact with high-touch areas. In order to accomplish these goals, the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., has deployed a technology-supported protocol as part of its adjustment to meet the new need of public health protection.

The Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., first opened its doors to the public in 2017, and has since established itself as one of the major attractions on the National Mall. Since its foundation, the museum has put a strong emphasis on the combination of customer service with a high level of security required for the protection of both people and the valuable historical content of the museum. The museum implemented the Qylur Q self-service entry security solution with advanced technologies including automation, AI, and collaborative human-machine interaction.

The access control solution integrates multiple technologies which have been deployed at the venue’s security checkpoint and security operations center. Each Q kiosk has five independent self-service pods, which use color-panel indicators to direct guest bag screening activity. Remote screeners work in tandem with the kiosks’ AI-automated detection to achieve the highest level of detection of both security threats and prohibited items.

A plan for reopening 

In March 2020, as the COVID-19 outbreak made its way across the U.S., the museum closed to the public as part of the lockdown and closure measures mandated by the mayor of Washington, D.C. During that period, the Museum of the Bible’s leadership team planned for the anticipated reopening and the required COVID-19 response preparedness that would be allowed during Phase II of the mayor’s guidance. The museum security team was tasked with the expanded charge of protecting employee and public health by following the many new procedures published by health authorities.

Figure 2.pngFigure 2: Left — New instructions prepare visitor for pandemic-impacted entrance. Right — The two Q systems with green doors on opposite sides, ensuring safe social distancing for multiple guests using it at the same time. Image courtesy of Qylur


On top of that, the team has the increased challenge of practicing its usually tight security with both staff and people wearing face masks and maintaining social distancing. The museum’s security team and Qylur worked together to create a new concept of operations (CONOP) and technology to ensure social distancing between guests and officers at the security checkpoint. The new CONOP covered the entry process, line management, flow control, officer location and intervention. The technology modifications focused on the Q kiosk, which used an operating algorithm with changes to its automation logic and self-service visual cues.

Figure 3.jpgFigure 3: Diagram of security entry layout and typical visitor path. Image courtesy of Qylur


From the operational perspective, a new line-management protocol was adopted to ensure social distancing and abide by health regulations which focused on a safe environment for all guests and staff within the museum. A new self-resolution for non-threatening prohibited items and adjusted locations for the officers was also implemented to help reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission (see Figure 3 for operational line management pre-COVID-19 and during the Phase II reopening). These adjustments ensured that not only did guests feel safe while visiting the museum, but officers and staff also knew that their safety was top priority for the museum’s leadership.

Figure 4.jpgFigure 4: Isometric layout showing line configuration and staff placement for social distancing during Phase II of reopening. Image courtesy of Qylur


Additionally, a new “pandemic mode” flow control algorithm was developed and implemented in the access control kiosk. In normal times, a key goal is to maximize people flow by using all five pods at the same time. However, to accommodate social distancing requirements, the Museum of the Bible leveraged the visual cues, automation and self-service capabilities of the kiosk in a new algorithm that set the colors of the pod panels to ensure that only one guest per side could approach and use the system. In other words, a guest could only use the kiosk at each corner (front left, front right, back left, and back right). With only two cells operational on each side, guests would be at different sections of the Q kiosk during their process, thus always following social distancing guidelines.

Figure 5.jpgFigure 5: Snapshot of flow simulation of the new social distancing traffic control algorithm, a tool developed as part of the Q technology enhancement. Image courtesy of Qylur


These measures, along with the training received by the officers, focused on protecting the public as well as the staff and allowed the museum to open much sooner than many of its counterparts within the District of Columbia. 


More than 3 months later, when the city announced its second phase of easing the lockdown, the museum was one of the very first attractions to reopen, having to chart its own course in new territory. To date, the Museum of the Bible has had millions of visitors go through museum entry security, with peak pre-COVID-19 daily scans of several thousands of patrons. The museum has locked and contained tens of thousands of potential threats and prohibited objects. During the period from June 2020 to May 2021, while operating in pandemic mode, the museum continued to welcome guests at a high rate, maintaining smooth and easy operations throughout. As of June 2021, the facility returned to pre-pandemic mode while retaining the ability to re-engage pandemic mode with a simple settings change, allowing the museum to make quick changes if conditions worsened in the city.

As many public institutions learned throughout this pandemic, situations can change swiftly, and security professionals must be prepared to react just as quickly. As technology improves and changes how we conduct our daily lives, having the ability to use these systems to adapt how we protect our institutions is crucial and will help the security industry face the next world-altering scenario.