By Mary Kate McGrath - October 19, 2020
In August, millions of students across the United States returned to college or university campuses amid the COVID-19 pandemic, living in social distancing compliant dorm arrangements, attending the majority of courses online, and adhering to necessary hygiene measures, including a universal mask mandate. This essential public health practice has impacted standard building security and access control measures, requiring campus safety teams to adjust protocols or procedures around these technologies.
The COVID-19 pandemic is requiring students to largely attend class online, with the hope of mitigating the spread of the virus on campus, discouraging students from gathering in communal spaces unnecessarily. However, with many campus facilities sitting empty or being underutilized, areas of campus might be at higher risk for vandalism or theft. While safety managers would normally manage safety in areas with low visibility or lighting with security cameras and CCTV, mask mandates may complicate this process, making it more difficult to identify perpetrators in the case of a break-in.
Additionally, security officers managing access control for buildings may want to remain extra vigilant as well, taking extra precautions to ensure that only authorized personnel are being allowed into dormitories, dining halls, or other on-campus facilities. Many other safety protocols will remain unchanged by mask hygiene; for example, ID badging and other access control measures will remain in place, and be just as effective with appropriate vigilance.
The use of masks on campus is a necessary public health measure, keeping students, faculty, and staff safe from coronavirus as they continue to attend school or work in on-campus facilities. However, campus safety and security teams should look to adjust normal protocol to better suit the COVID-19 era, reevaluating how mask mandates, high-touch technology, and other common security measures are working to manage campus safety.
It’s possible that mask mandates will have little to no impact on the relevance of security cameras - the use of masks does not necessarily mean security footage is not a good medium for monitoring low-visibility areas on campus, but face coverings could complicate how footage is reviewed. CCTV operators may have a more difficult time analyzing emotion and facial expressions, recognizing individuals who are previously banned, or muffled audio that makes it more difficult to analyze sound.
Officer training can help bridge the gaps on some of these potential obstacles, allowing operators to continue to do their jobs effectively with a mask mandate in place. Ensure that all campus safety officers or security personnel understand the protocol for reporting a suspicious incident from security footage, or what to do if the sound is muffled. Encouraging workers to report any behavior or activity that seems suspicious - whether it’s trespassing or potential social-distancing violations - can also continue to bolster facility management.
While video camera usage might be impacted by mask mandates, other common protocols, such as Student ID badging, can continue to maintain safety on campus. The use of an access control system to secure buildings remains relevant amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and with new technological advances, can even be streamlined to better suit a campus’ needs, from providing-no touch access to reducing foot traffic in closed spaces. Administrators can block access to buildings that are not available for use by students amid COVID-19 outbreaks, such as community gathering halls, recreational facilities, or unused labs.
Luckily, many campuses were already in the process of updating ID access control technology, investing in touchless access control or contactless credentials, with the hope of creating a more streamlined, user-friendly, high-tech solution, as per Security Info Watch. However, an unexpected benefit of these services is the ability to quickly pivot to more hygienic access control protocols, which is the kind of agility that campus security teams should look for in all of their emergency response technologies.
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented an ideal opportunity for campus safety managers to audit access control tools being used on campus and do some proactive maintenance, such as database management or firmware and software patches, as per Campus Safety Magazine. The ongoing upkeep on these systems is what keeps them operable.
First, it’s important to ensure that your college or university’s access control system has reliable IT support, either from an on-campus team or outside systems integrator, as these individuals will do crucial database management that prevents safety risks down the road. Also, applying relevant patches or systems updates can be useful, keeping systems from glitching when it matters most. With reduced student activity on campus, this may be an ideal team to run evaluations and implement changes.
For students, faculty, or staff traveling across campus, it’s essential to have the ability to reach campus safety professionals during an emergency. It’s unclear if a mask mandate or other social distancing measures are having an impact on access control measures, but it is apparent that campuses will need to continue to respond to emergency incidents, even amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Each college or university can continue to support emergency response by proactively ensuring that all relevant teams and departments can communicate on COVID-19 related issues and other safety concerns via a mass notification system and campus safety app.
The coronavirus pandemic has necessitated more coordinated internal communication among college campus leaders, campus safety managers, public health professionals, and other relevant stakeholders. Campus safety managers can leverage technology to boost situational awareness and bolster the effectiveness of access control measures by investing in a campus safety app with anonymous two-way tip texting.
The app allows students, faculty, or staff to report suspicious incidents or activity to campus safety personnel, whether it’s a COVID-19 violation or a suspected break-in. The two-way, confidential texting, is a powerful strategy to identify incidents on campus during a time where other facility management tools might be insufficient.
A campus safety app can also help ensure safety that goes beyond video cameras and CCTV. While these cameras are normally used to monitor areas of campus that are low-lit or don’t receive a lot of foot traffic, there are other ways to protect students who are traveling between campus facilities. With a campus safety app, users can set a “virtual escort” during their walk or travel, as well as a set time for departure and arrival, allowing their designated escort to be informed after they arrive safely at the location.
The app also has a button to immediately connect community members with 9-1-1 or campus safety during an emergency. If the situation is unsafe to speak, users can also text photos or provide location data to responders, or even stream from their location in real-time.
Mary Kate is a content specialist and social media manager for the Rave Mobile Safety team. She writes about public safety for the state & local and education spheres.
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