By Mary Kate McGrath - May 11, 2020
In March, college and university campuses across the United States halted in person classes, shuttering on campus facilities, sending students home, and transitioning to a remote learning model in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Many qualities of campus life, such as communal living or dining, classrooms or labs, or recreational facilities, force students to be in close proximity with each other, increasing the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
It’s since become clear that remote learning will be necessary for the remainder of the spring session, and likely, over the summer and into the fall semester as well. Administrators must manage building security on shutdown college or university campuses, preventing property damage, coordinating regular sanitation, and taking proactive steps to ensure the health and safety of security personnel.
Despite mandated social-distancing or shelter-in place protocol, some regions have struggled with break-ins or instances of vandalism. In Maryland, local police documented an increase in vandalism and burglaries between March 1 and April 16, which law enforcement believe to be related to coronavirus shutdowns and school closures, as per Campus Secuity & Life Magazine. Burglaries are becoming more common due to, “people just having too much time on their hands,” especially as nearby communities are shut down. Most of the break-ins have involved vandalism or broken windows, but security cameras, motion sensors, and other technology has allowed local law enforcement to quickly arrive on-site.
Facilities will also likely be undergoing a large-scale cleaning and sanitation process, which requires simultaneous coordination and communication with security teams. Campus leaders looking to clean and disinfect education spaces will need to develop, implement and maintain a plan, taking advantage of closures by cleaning and disinfecting public spaces. For security personnel on campus during the closure and cleaning period, providing PPE and bolstering emergency communications to keep the entire team informed will be essential.
College or university leaders should consider a reduced campus police presence to address issues on campus and patrol closed facilities. The University of California, Riverside issued a notice about security management during the coronavirus shutdown, informing the community that UC Riverside Police, Environmental Health & Safety, and Facilities Services would be among the departments with staff performing essential duties on campus for the duration, according to the university website.
Police officers and dispatchers will still be working regular shifts with personnel on duty 24/7, and officers will focus their patrol on the interior of the building. Assistant Police Chief Jon Freese noted that the action was meant to keep the campus secure during the odd time, stating: “We endeavor to provide high police visibility to deter crime while our campus resources are vulnerable during this time of significantly decreased human presence.”
UC Riverside also took active steps to protect campus police and security workers, providing officers with training and protective equipment to prevent exposure to the coronavirus while responding to calls. The campus safety team also implemented social distancing rules for shift briefings, regularly cleaned patrol cars, and no longer allowed officers to ride together in a single vehicle. Facilities services have greatly reduced on-campus staff since the stay-at-home order was put into place in the state, but few essential workers have continued necessary upkeep such as landscapers who mow the campus lawn or custodial staff implenting large-scale santitation efforts.
The CDC compiled a reopening guidance for cleaning and disinfecting school or campus facilities, helping leaders develop a general framework for sanitation practices. During the development phase, campus leaders will determine what areas need to be cleaned, and the resources or equipment needed. Part of this planning must entail how to keep cleaning crews safe on campus, offering appropriate PPE and training, as well as communicating with all remaining staff on campus about the effort.
Physical security measures can continue to play a major role in campus safety amid building security. Security cameras, motion sensors, and automatic door locks have proved a great asset during shutdowns, allowing campus safety teams to virtually monitor buildings on campus. These tools allow campus police, security personnel, or local law enforcement to swiftly arrive during an incident of theft, trespassing or destruction of property, identify the intruder, and secure the facility.
Technology can play a great role in coordinating facility care and security. A mass notification system can communicate with security personnel and facility staff informed of any protocol changes as the coronavirus pandemic develops. For example, the times and locations for patrol vehicles required to be turned in for cleaning or sanitation, and best practices for running roll call or briefings while remaining socially-distancing compliant.
Geo-polling features can also be used to fill shifts using a quota feature, allowing administrators to identify healthy and available security personnel or facility service workers. Safety leaders can also use the feature to check-in or solicit feedback from any worker experiencing symptoms and self-isolating, making sure that worker is aware of proper guidelines around quaranting and has acess to medical care.
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.