There’s a common misperception that universities across the world are closed. While the majority of students and academics are adapting to distance-learning, behind the scenes, most universities still have hundreds that remain on campus. And although classes have been suspended, the campus must remain operational for various essential services. Those on campus include executive leaders, public safety and security teams, residential students unable to return home, students and academics performing critical research, facilities management personnel, and contract workers. Despite their suspended state, universities and colleges have a continued obligation to provide duty of care to all constituents who remain on campus.
Challenges Tied to Protecting On-Campus Students & Staff
Looking after the safety and security of students and staff on a large open campus is difficult enough; but with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are a host of new challenges for public safety and security teams responsible for the welfare and protection of people. The challenges include:
- Ongoing protection of university staff and students deemed essential, which are now effectively lone workers on campus
- Students who remain in on-campus accommodations, as well as those trapped abroad, who need timely communications and updates as conditions warrant
- People operating in high risk lab environments at all hours of the day
- Need for those authorized to be on campus to have an effective way to sign in, or sign-out when arriving/leaving campus
- First aiders and fire wardens who normally contribute to the safety mission aren’t on site; with the burden falling back to the security and public safety team
- The inability to easily view and coordinate all available resources who are actually on site, including in-house security, emergency management, sworn officers, and contracted security officers to proactively protect those on campus
- How to look after those in self-quarantine, while protecting the health and safety of staff
- How to effectively communicate information about COVID-19 resources and developments
Innovative Solutions Through Technology
When faced with limited resources, higher education institutions often look to technology for innovative solutions to help them tackle unprecedented challenges. As a result, leading universities across the globe are using SafeZone to tackle these challenges.
Protecting Residential Students and Those Who Remain on Campus
When you have limited staff and campus is “closed” for the pandemic, how can your university respond with resources to effectively look after and protect the students who remain in campus accommodations, as well as staff and students abroad unable to return to home?
Universities with SafeZone have instructed these students to download the SafeZone app on their phone and check-in. This enables the security team to know their location and identity in the event they require assistance. Organizations can quickly and easily send a daily notice to check on the wellbeing of each individual and offer assistance as needed. And in the event the individual needs assistance, they can use the app to be connected directly to the university security team.
For example, Aston University in the UK currently has about a 100 students and staff overseas who are unable to fly home and they’re using SafeZone to check in daily with these individuals spread across the globe. The technology enables Aston to quickly make sure everyone is OK and if any of them don’t check in, the security team can call them specifically to verify they’re still well.
Protecting Lone Workers on Campus
Due to the lack of staff and students on campus, those remaining on campus are usually working alone, which results in a net increase in lone workers and high risk workers. Based upon this, the effectiveness of the security and safety teams to respond is paramount.
One of the most common types of lone workers at universities involves students and staff working in high risk lab environments. This is especially prevalent at research-based institutions and involves research that is conducted 24 hours a day, up to 7 days a week. Several universities decided to shut down all lab activities except for those deemed essential, such as maintaining costly cell lines, feeding live animals, and in some cases, research relating to COVID-19.
Traditionally, universities require those conducting experiments to do so with a colleague or buddy for enhanced safety. In the current COVID-19 environment, this is no longer possible. So SafeZone customers are using SafeZone as a virtual buddy. Many have configured their system, and users have opted in, so those entering the lab buildings are automatically checked in on the SafeZone system, so users do not have to interact with their devices or remember to follow the protocol. Those working alone in the labs can additionally use the timed check-in feature so if they expect to leave the building in two hours, and they haven’t yet left or failed to extend the timer when prompted, an alarm will be triggered to the university’s response teams so that a verified response can be performed by the security team.
Protecting Contractors on Campus
In the face of a closed campus, some Higher-Ed institutions have turned to contractors to perform facilities and plant maintenance to keep buildings operational and the grounds well-kept. These contractors would typically sign-in when entering the campus, but due to the manual nature of this approach, combined with the need for social distancing, they’ve replaced this process by requiring the contractors to check in using SafeZone.
For example, York University has dozens of contractors on site helping to manage the campus critical operations, and has configured the system to auto-check in the contractors when they enter the campus grounds so they’re aware who is on campus and where. Likewise, the system automatically checks them out as they leave the campus to avoid any infringement of their privacy.
Requiring Use of SafeZone for Those Accessing Campus
Multiple universities are requiring all those authorized to be on campus to use the SafeZone App and check-in when entering campus. This provides the public safety and security teams with the ability to know who is on campus and they can verify the individual is essential.
For example, University of South Australia has mandated the use of SafeZone on its campus during the present lockdown due to COVID-19. They have over 300 people checked in and have even configured their access card reader system to remind users they need to check in with SafeZone.
Monitoring those in Self-Isolation
Perhaps the most complex scenario universities are facing, is how to monitor the safety and wellbeing of those in self-isolation tied to COVID-19, and who are also in university designated accommodations. The prospects of determining how to check in regularly with these students, while protecting the health and safety of your staff is daunting.
Some universities have enabled the Report Something feature, creating specific categories for COVID-19 in order for students and staff to be able to easily and confidentially relay any concerns, for example: “I haven’t heard from an individual and I am concerned”.
Due to the flexibility of SafeZone’s platform, several universities also added “Coronavirus Update” info. to the home screen of the SafeZone App to provide real time information / resources for the coronavirus. As a result of the customization, some of these universities have seen up to a doubling in downloads of the SafeZone App which demonstrates the university community is seeking reassurance and values resources that offer assistance.
“We’ve changed the leading page details with the Help button being renamed “COVID-19” and the information banner taking people to the coronavirus webpage, which has been well received. We really appreciate all your help – SafeZone is coming into its own at the moment!”
– Alison Levy, Director of Student and Academic Services, Aston University
Following the volunteer spirit of the one million UK citizens who volunteered to assist those in need tied to the COVID-19 pandemic, one of our customers showed their ingenuity by creating a specific group for any students who wanted to volunteer and offer assistance to those stuck on campus and unable to leave the building. Given there is limited health, welfare and student services on campus during the campus closure, this group of students is offering assistance to their fellow students i.e. run errands to get food, medicine or supplies. This creative, ad-hoc service is supported by them sharing their real-time location so they can be called upon for assistance based on their availability and proximity to the person in need.
When you have limited staff and several individuals isolated or operating in a lone worker environment, you need the ability to communicate updates to those who are actively on-site. In addition, there remains the possibility of other critical incidents on campus e.g. a fire, a broken pipe that floods a building. SafeZone is unique in its ability to deliver geo-targeted communications to only those impacted by a particular incident. This is critical so your team can harness the ability to be precise with the information your team shares, so as to avoid sending irrelevant information to select users or alarming them unnecessarily.
Force Multiplier Via Common Operating View
When you’re short-staffed, but still responsible for patrolling one or more large open campuses and protecting those still on campus, it creates a large strain on your organization. SafeZone Secure™ is uniquely placed to help security teams secure campuses, coordinate security assets in real time, and maintain oversight across campus. The service acts as a force multiplier by enabling campus security teams to visualize where assets are so they can be dispatched in real-time, and is particularly well-suited for the challenges of patrolling and responding to incidents across large estates in the most effective way possible.
SafeZone provides command and control functionality by enabling customers to visualize and distinguish between sworn officers, security officers and contract personnel in real-time, array their coverage and respond faster. Despite campus closures, universities also use SafeZone Secure to monitor patrol coverage as maintaining a physical presence of the patrol team reassures those who remain on campus that they are safe.
“SafeZone is essential technology to position your organization on the cutting edge of campus safety and security. The real-time common operating view both enhances officer safety and acts a force multiplier. Plus, the entire police department benefits from advanced features such as heat mapping and incident playback to optimize performance. I strongly recommend SafeZone!”
– Ron Davidson, Chief of Police, Texas A&M University-San Antonio
As universities take stock of their “closed universities” and the challenges associated with protecting all those who remain on campus, public safety and security teams will continue to strain both during the pandemic, and for many months thereafter. I encourage your organization to consider evaluating SafeZone technology to be the force multiplier needed to help address your challenges during these difficult times. It’s quick and easy to request a demo here.