students practicing social distancing on campus

Managing a Safe Return to Campus

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[This is Part I of a new multi-part series on a “Safe Return to Campus”]

A Shift in Mindset

It’s hard to believe, but in just two months the “Rush to Close Campus” has shifted to a “Return to Campus” mindset. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, 68% of US universities are planning to return in the coming academic year, with another 20% undecided or still considering options, 7% planning an on-campus/online hybrid, and 6% planning on online only. Those planning to return will likely increase as more universities finalize their plans to re-open and prepare to compete with a compelling student experience.

That mindset is being repeated across the globe as universities examine the details of how they can safely return to campus. University leaders are beginning to realize the magnitude of this undertaking and looking for solutions to help smooth the transition. The president of Northeastern University, John E. Aoun summed it up well when he said,

“This is a highly complex endeavor; in fact, even more complicated than the move to remote learning and working we accomplished in March. It will require new and innovative thinking about classroom usage, residential occupancy, dining, athletics, student activities, and other elements of campus life.”

Newcastle University

Seize the Opportunity

Without question, it’s a complicated balancing act as higher education institutions consider how to safely return thousands of students, faculty and staff, as they search for answers with limited foresight as to what the future will bring. Given the health, safety and security of the university community is paramount to each university reopening as well as its financial viability, safety and security teams at campuses around the world are now in the spotlight and in a unique position to play a vital and essential role.

This presents your team with the opportunity to collaborate and partner with Health & Safety, Student Wellness, Student Services, and other departments to secure resources and funding when responding to the question to “What does the university need to safely reopen campus and how can we contribute to this broad organizational goal?” This is your chance to demonstrate the value your security and safety teams can provide and ensure you secure a central role in the multi-department planning and implementation of the resulting plans. [For tips on how best to strategically position your Public Safety and Security teams, see our recent blog.]

Board Room

Make a Strategic Impact That Aligns with Executive Priorities:

While much of the discussion centers on the immediate challenges of reopening a campus, having solutions in place to address these challenges will also serve the university well with recruiting the next class or intake of students for the 2020/2021 academic year. The US and UK trail behind Australia, New Zealand and Canada for perceptions of safety as referenced in the IDP International Student Buyer Behaviour Research. Remember the recruitment of international students, which comprises a significant percentage of higher margin students in the UK, US and Australia, will be especially important with the current budget crisis. By taking proactive steps to address parents and prospective student’s concerns about safety, you have the means to actually shape perceptions and have a positive influence on the recruitment and retention of students which is paramount to your university’s long-term viability. For a concrete example, see how Teesside University’s security team quantified their impact which helped lead to a #1 ranking from international students.

And again, with capital budgets under strain like never before it’s important to emphasize that this is a critical period during which universities will allocate their limited resources to just a few projects that can demonstrably impact their ability to minimize risk, and highlight their commitment to investing in the safety and protection of all students, staff and faculty.

What’s the Plan?

Regardless of your university’s plans, it’s helpful to view the circumstances through the lens of a prospective or returning student.  They have been on virtual lockdown for many weeks, with many just now emerging from stay-in-place orders. They and their parents are wondering, “What steps are you taking to protect me so I can come/return to campus and what are you doing to make sure we stay safe?”

Every university is unique and as such, there will be hundreds of different versions of a “Return to Campus Plan”.  These phases will vary based on the type of university (Research or Teaching as an example) the size of the student population, the number and location of campuses, etc.  But regardless of the variances, we know there are certain elements that will remain largely consistent.

Be Prepared:

The Return to Campus will be gradual and consist of a series of stages or phases. As the phases progress, an incremental population will be brought back to campus. The University of Colorado – Anschutz medical campus provides a great example of how they’re communicating this phased approach to their campus community. In initial phases, research-based universities are already beginning to return select faculty and post-grad students to resume critical experiments and lab work. This will result in incremental lone workers working in high-risk environments, so it’s important to have a solution like SafeZone that makes it easy for those working alone to check-in to convey their location.

lone worker scientist conducts research at university

In earlier stages, you can exert more control and be more prescriptive of conditions to meet for those returning to campus.  For example, several of our customers, including Teesside University, Leicester University, Swansea University and Northeastern University are requiring all staff and students returning to campus to use the SafeZone App to check-in and check-out when they enter/leave campus so they have a complete picture of who is on campus and can better serve their needs. We can make this easier by enabling an automated check-in/check-out functionality as the community enter/leaves campus.

Start your preparation early and consider important questions such as, “What does my team need to be prepared to do and support each one of our phases”. Compiling that list will require examining your current resources and limitations, and identifying any gaps in capabilities, including manpower, budget, technology etc. Look to eliminate single-threaded services and retain solutions that serve the needs of your team as well as those of your constituents across campus. And be sure to proactively communicate any shortfalls in resources to the appropriate senior leaders. Yes, budgets are being cut, but nothing is more important than opening a campus in a safe and secure way that minimizes risks to the university community. If you clearly articulate what you need and why in a proactive fashion, you’ll tilt the odds in your favor.

Flexibility is Key

As you work to formulate plans, recognize your university may either push back or bring forward the academic calendar to accomplish university objectives and these decisions may happen quickly so help your team understand the need for flexibility. For example, the University of Manchester in the UK is starting their Fall semester two weeks later to allow more time to prepare.  In contrast, Notre Dame and the University of San Diego have announced they’re starting school in early August so they can end the semester before Thanksgiving i.e. before the beginning of the flu season.

It may be important for the university to have the capacity to accelerate, slow or even reverse the Phases as conditions on the ground warrant with COVID-19.  For example, how would the university react to several dozen students testing positive for COVID-19 in a particular dorm or accommodation on campus?  How can the Safety and Security department contribute to the management of such a situation?

Social Distancing

Are You Ready to Reopen Your Campus?

Review the list of questions below to help you identify potential areas of exposure for your university:

  1. How can you demonstrate to students, their parents and staff how you’ll help keep them safe, even with COVID-19 as an ongoing threat?
  2. How will you monitor and protect lone workers working in high risk environments?
  3. If budgets and staff are cut, what force multipliers can you leverage to fulfill your team’s responsibilities?
  4. How will you efficiently and effectively communicate with the university community about specific issues? Do you have the means to target specific segments of the population based on their role, location, or department?
  5. How will you provide maximum visibility of your security / police officers and deter would be opportunists from targeting individuals operating alone or in smaller groups?
  6. How will you support visitors to campus i.e. where will they check-in, how will you process and protect prospective students and their families?
  7. How will you manage special events? For example, graduation ceremonies for many universities have been rescheduled to later in the year.
  8. How can you support the Athletic Directors on how to manage the return of sporting events, especially sporting events without fans, travelling teams, etc?
  9. How will you manage high risk individuals, those with disabilities, PEEP’s, previous victims of crime i.e. stalking with fewer people on site)?
  10. How will you respond to, isolate and protect those in quarantine or self-isolation in dorms or accommodation due to COVID symptoms or exposure to someone suspected of having COVID-19?
  11. How will you support Contact Tracing if/when someone has COVID symptoms, so you can see where the infected person went and who they may have exposed as they travelled across campus?
  12. How will you notify facilities staff to request they deep-clean the rooms those infected with COVID-19 were in?
  13. “If there is a re-emergence of the virus that makes a fully online approach to online learning necessary again, what steps will you take to help support that transition?

safeZone Integrated security solution

SafeZone is Uniquely Positioned to Help You Immediately

If you think the list of questions above is intimidating, you’re not alone. This is just a sampling of expectations university officials have identified as critical in order to be able to reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic. And in many cases, it’s going to be up to the safety and security teams at each university to support these capabilities.

How can your team demonstrate they’re doing what’s required to safeguard the community so that staff and students feel the university is taking the necessary steps to make it safe for them to return? To bridge the shortfall of resources, you need a force-multiplier.

In fact, SafeZone can help you address every single capability listed above, with one solution.  SafeZone also has a range of features and capabilities which can enhance your team’s ability to support  specific requirements tied to COVID-19 and we’ll explore those use cases in detail in our next blog, so subscribe here if you’re interested in learning more about this.

Partnership with SafeZone

Have a Visible and Tangible Impact, Now

Although this may seem daunting at first, please know that we have helped many higher education institutions across the world through this journey and continue to support them with each step of their re-opening of campus strategies with SafeZone. In fact, we can have SafeZone, configured specifically for your university, set-up and operational within 48 hours. The CriticalArc team has the experience to help you navigate every step of the journey from engagement with your colleagues, IT approvals, Procurement, deployment and most importantly ongoing support through our Customer Success program.

In times of crisis, it’s essential to provide reassurances to make the university community feel safe and secure. After all, perception is reality and thus it’s critical for your safety and security team to be doing things that are tangible and overtly visible to all your constituents.

By deploying SafeZone across your campus community – a solution that you can implement in a matter of days not months – you can make a concrete impact by providing staff and students with a service that makes them feel more confident the university has their safety underpinning the strategy to reopen campus. Most importantly, you’re providing them with an effective tool that is visible and reassures them their safety is paramount and your team is taking proactive steps to ensure you can better care for them throughout the Coronavirus pandemic.

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