Keeping Up with the Storm

Keeping Up with the Storm

How the pandemic is affecting higher education; keeping students safe in the COVID world

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, schools throughout our nation had their hands filled trying to keep students and faculty safe from unauthorized people on campus. Since the onset of the pandemic and the re-start of the fall semester, colleges and universities have spent millions of dollars on additional safety measures including protective gear, cleaning supplies and additional staff.

Not only do schools still need to worry about physical security; but now need to put new safety and operating procedures in place to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. With these safety measures changing constantly, based on the spread of the virus on a particular campus; keeping students, staff, guests and vendors healthy is now an additional responsibility of school administrators.

Practicing Social Distancing

This is not an easy task when you have hundreds or thousands of students possibly returning to your campus and stringent social distancing guidelines that must be followed. With a mixture of campuses choosing an in-person class setting for its re-opening, while other universities selecting an online learning option only; schools must be able to adapt to the ever-changing world of COVID-19.

Schools are weathering the storm by relying on their trusted security partners that can help introduce new safety technology and deploy it quickly. In response to COVID-19, there has been a myriad of new technology solutions introduced to the marketplace that includes real-time occupancy monitoring, ID scanning/ contact tracing, mask detection and automated fever detection. Colleges are faced with a huge challenge when it comes to bringing students safely back to campus. Most college students are used to congregating together in dorms either studying or partying together, and have a difficult time adapting to the new normal brought about by the global pandemic. It is even more challenging for schools that are located in the hardest hit areas, such as New York City or California, to bring students back safely. One high-profile New York campus is leading the way and raising the bar when it comes to having a solid plan in place when it opened its doors in the fall of 2020.

Prestigious NYC College Creates a Clear Path to Recovery

For more than six decades, the School of Visual Arts (SVA) has been a leader in the education of artists, designers and creative professionals. Comprised of approximately 4,200 students and 650 staff members at its Manhattan campus, SVA has built a reputation as being one of the most influential artistic communities in the world. With its classrooms, facilities and offices occupying space in 14 buildings in Manhattan, campus safety has always been a priority for the college. SVA started putting together their game plan for the fall semester back in April 2020 when NYC was still completely shut down and in lock-down mode. In order to keep students and staff safe, a number of actions were put in place by SVA.

First, all classes for the fall 2020 semester were offered online, while staff members who were able to work remotely could do so. For the fall semester, the college allowed access to only 500 students on campus to use facilities and tracked everything using an online desk reservation system. Students and staff who accessed the campus facilities were required to view training videos prior to their arrival on the proper use of a face mask and hand hygiene. The college’s main focus was to reduce the risk and likelihood of illness on the SVA campus; therefore everyone entering the facility must attest to their health first and foremost. For students living on campus in the SVA residence halls, significant de-densification measures were instituted. Each resident student at SVA now had their own private room and private bathroom. Shared common areas and spaces, such as elevators, lounges and laundry rooms have reduced occupancy limits posted to ensure adequate distancing.

In order to make this all happen in a short timeframe, SVA needed a trusted security vendor that could work with their IT, security, facilities and executive management team effectively. In June 2020, SVA turned to their trusted security partner, SAS Technologies Corp (SAS), who has been working with them on prior security upgrades over the past four years. SAS, is a Certified Minority Women Owned (M/WBE) Long Island-based security integrator who has provided integrated security solutions to a wide clientele base for the past 15 years. The management team at SVA felt confident using SAS and knew that they would implement the latest COVID-19 security solutions for a safe re-opening.

“Working with the team at SAS to implement these new safety technologies was an absolute pleasure,” said Cosmin Tomescu CIO and Privacy Officer at SVA. “We look for trust, integrity, skills, professionalism, and good communication from our vendors; and SAS has exceeded our expectation on all these requirements.”

SAS Brings New COVID-19 Technology to Life at SVA

SVA was proactive in planning its action plan early on to help safeguard the college from the new COVID-19 world that was imploding around them. The COVID requirements were quite complex and at times extremely challenging for the school to navigate in clearly unchartered waters. SAS quickly brought together the key players who could help with the security upgrade and recommended the best course of action to the SVA. This included four separate security upgrades running in tandem all managed by the SAS team of professionals.

“SAS Technologies has a wealth of experience working with many other higher education institutions in the tri-state area,” Tomescu said. “The relationship and trust we built over the years was one of the important factors we looked at when choosing them for these important projects.” With two of the four upgrades planned prior to the pandemic, the college accelerated the projects, and decided to speed up the projects and deploy much quicker due to COVID-19.

To prepare for the fall semester, “SVA Safe,” a mobile application that allows staff, faculty and students to take the CDC required questionnaire prior to entering the campus was deployed on everyone’s mobile phones. The system allowed for data retention in order to implement contact tracing as required by New York State and the CDC. This pre-arrival screening app “SVA Safe” which requires persons to take their temperature then answer questions about symptoms (as defined by the CDC), and screening questions about testing positive for COVID- 19, being exposed to the virus and recent travel. After answering answering the questions, users are presented with either an “approval” or “stay home” badge, and a QR code that needs to be presented to the on-site security guards for access.

The second upgrade included a lobby ID scanning solution from LenelS2, to identify visitors as they enter the campus. ID Scanning stations were installed in every lobby at SVA to track any staff, faculty and students entering the facilities. SAS also implemented an integrated visitor management solution called Splan. Currently, SVA has SPLAN deployed in 8 locations and can easily expand it to other locations on campus.

Visitor Management

The Splan solution provides next generation cloud and enterprise-level visitor management solutions delivering intelligent and fully automated, self-service visitor check-in processes. Splan supports rules-based configurations and workflow approvals. SVA is using workflow approvals when students create a visit request. Resident authority or roommates have to approve visit requests for overnight visit and underage visitors. Students can use Splan’s Sign In Easy mobile to create visit requests and approvals from their mobile phones.

“The SAS team took the lead on this project, while balancing the requirements of the customer and working with Splan to design and implement the proper use-cases and overall solution that met SVA’s needs,” said Pat Figley, senior vice president of Global Sales and Operations at Splan.

The new technologies seamlessly interacts with the existing LenelS2 solution to identify visitors as they enter campus. As part of the ID management process, kiosk-based systems were installed in every lobby that allowed SVA to manage visitors and vendors entering the facilities that required a COVID questionnaire to be completed (either remotely or in person), scan a government issued ID card, and print a temporary badge. The last upgrade included an occupancy monitoring system that involved Density sensors being installed in every lobby, which allowed for real-time and historical data on traffic across all campus locations.

“Density is a people counting sensor platform that helps companies monitor and manage the real-time usage of their buildings,” said Jay Bid, customer success manager at Density.

The latest product oThering, “Safe By Density,” provides actionable data to visitors via the display, alerts and analytics features. By making real-time occupancy data easily available, users are equipped to make informed decisions about entering or exiting any given space. All data is anonymous and accurate; making it a concrete solution. With the risk of COVID transmission indoors being 19 times higher than outside, it’s important for SVA to identify the high traffic areas on campus and set limits on capacity.

Orchestrating a Successful Security Integration For SVA

As the COVID-19 requirements are quite complex, SAS assisted the college every step of the way and considered numerous factors when planning the upgrades. A main concern was the existing SCA infrastructure, and how the new security systems would integrate into the platform. In addition, the college was concerned about the ease of usability, accuracy of the data collected, reporting, speed of implementation and project costs. SAS quickly put their minds at ease and brought together all the right technology partners. The installation consisted of 14 locations campus-wide and included installing LenelS2 Micronodes with Allegion MT15 card readers into security desks for student and staff verification. There are floor standing kiosks housing the iPads and Density sensors with custom brackets to overcome various field conditions. It also included configuration of all hardware and software that included new CAT6 cable runs.

“We are extremely proud that SVA put their trust in SAS to deliver the latest security upgrades within a three-month timeframe to help prepare for the fall 2020 re-opening of their NYC campus,” states Sandra Rocha, CEO of SAS Technologies. “We could not be more thrilled with the results and happy that we could help the SVA management team through such a challenging time as the COVID-19 pandemic.”

By bringing together the right technology partners, SVA was able to see demos of all recommended technology solutions prior to the installation and felt comfortable moving forward with all the security upgrades.

“We had many online meetings, conference calls and discussions about all the technology and how it would work together,” said Michael Troiani, service and engineering manager at SAS. “During the pandemic many new product offerings were presented and we wanted to make sure that we were listening to exactly what the customer wanted and that we could provide those solutions. Our ultimate goal was providing solutions that could have been implemented prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and that would also be useful during and after this pandemic”

By having SAS orchestrating all the upgrades and training, SVA knew that it was prepared to have a successful re-opening. A huge benefit for SVA was having all the new technologies integrate seamlessly with the existing security platform already at the school. Due to the online portal and all the new technology installed, the SVA Human Resources staff and Student/Health & Counseling Services were able to handle the new task of contact tracing with their existing staff. SVA is able to track people across their campus seamlessly and did not have to increase internal personnel; thus saving the university money by not having to hire additional staff.

Clear Skies Ahead for SVA

With a quick deployment of the latest security technologies in the industry, SVA wanted to be proactive when it came to protecting their students’ and staffs’ health and well-being.

“We are all hoping for a return to normal after the COVID-19 pandemic passes; but in reality, nobody really knows when this storm will pass,” Troiani said. “No matter how long this lasts, SAS will continue to be here for our customers and help schools figure out the right plan to ensure a safe environment for learning.”

For school executives, the pressure is on to clear the skies and make their campuses a safe haven for students and staff to come back. With an enterprise-level visitor management, contact tracing and ID scanning systems in place, SVA is fully prepared to have students and staff members return to campus. Their mission was accomplished due to the fast thinking of the team at SAS and the forward-thinking technology brought to the table by Density, Splan, and LenelS2. Moving forward, SVA would like to continue deploying Density scanners in their 900-seat, 2-screen theatre and art gallery spaces. No matter what the future holds, SAS will be here to help advise and give a bird’s eye view of what safety and security should look like for schools in a COVID-19 world and when skies clear.

This article originally appeared in the November December 2020 issue of Campus Security Today.


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