A Safe Return

How tech-led innovation can support campus efforts for a secure return this fall

As the nation’s colleges and universities prepare for Fall 2021, healthcare experts off er cautious optimism for better days ahead amid the pandemic. Yet, COVID-19-related challenges remain, and may for some time.

During a recent interview, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Director Dr. Anthony Fauci said he does not expect a “degree of normality that will approximate the kind of normality we are used to,” until 2022. that gap between the start of the 2021 school year and the onset of this greater degree of normality represents continued risk to students, faculty, staff and campus visitors that tech-led innovation can help bridge, especially as new coronavirus variants proliferate in the meantime.

Critical Event Management Offers a Better Way Forward

As higher education navigates the prolonged impact of COVID-19, schools continue to face a series of unprecedented challenges: how to get people back on campus safely, how to quickly inform students, faculty, and staff of potential coronavirus risks; how to comply with Clery Act guidelines requiring the notification the campus community when there an immediate threat to health and safety of students and employees exists; and how to cope with lost revenue from closures and the lack of sporting and other large events on campus.

What can colleges and universities do to reopen while digitally transforming the process to monitor potential exposures, manage the response and effectively communicate across all key stakeholder, all while protecting student, faculty and staff privacy?

Today, critical event management (CEM) technology – so wareas- as-service (SaaS) that helps colleges, universities and other organizations mitigate natural, manmade and digital crises – off ers higher education leaders an effective solution for addressing these challenges amid the remaining phases of the pandemic, and in anticipation of other threats like violence and crimes on campus, severe weather, IT outages, cyber-attacks and other incidents.

CEM allows schools to automate and manage the full lifecycle of a crisis: assess risks and determine which are relevant to your assets and people; locate all assets and people that are impacted or at risk of being impacted, including remote, work-from-home, mobile and traveling employees, as well as customers and responders, nearby or traveling to areas of risk; act to automate standard operating procedures to launch and manage incident response; and analyze performance to identify bottlenecks and improve response for subsequent events.

At the onset of the pandemic, CEM helped universities conduct contact tracing by leveraging location-based tracing data that an organization typically already collects, from badge swipes and meeting calendars to GPS signals and Wi-Fi location monitoring, to identify anyone who might have encountered someone infected with COVID-19, while safeguarding user privacy.

Schools used the technology to: Alert people. A possible encounter with someone who had tested positive for COVID-19

Conduct daily wellness checks. On campus to ensure students and employees remain healthy and not a risk to others

Ascertain when someone on campus had tested positive. Help facilitate medical attention and provide campus policy information.

As part of one streamlined platform, CEM also includes valuable crisis and event management capabilities to optimize a college or university’s critical event response by orchestrating all crisis activities, teams, resources and communications in one application. With all stakeholders – from responders in the field to campus leadership – working from a common operating picture, allows schools to focus on mission-critical activities to provide a status update, and complements CEM’s other capabilities.

With coronavirus outbreaks still possible for months or years to come, these capabilities can help schools respond quickly to sudden spikes on campus and contain the spread.

CEM’s digital wayfinding capabilities also benefit schools during the reopening process. Similar to traditional outdoor navigation systems, digital wayfinding provides voice prompts, off -route notifications, and visual landmark references. Schools can use the solution to provide virtual guided tours, showcasing the key highlights of the school history or community life on campus, as well as creating a smooth transition for incoming freshman and parents to navigate through a large unfamiliar campus environment.

Additional features may include parking planners, as well as “find my car” and “meet me” features, all designed to help connect students, visitors, faculty and staff . These remain applicable to the recruiting process.

Together, these and other CEM capabilities support a school’s holistic approach to providing a safe path to returning to campus and managing any crisis or event on campus.

The Return to Campus also means the Return of Other Risks Too

The return to campus this Fall also represents a return to confronting severe weather, IT outages, cyber-attacks, crime or violence on campus. Critical events can happen anywhere, and they need rapid management, especially during a pandemic, which adds even more complexity to the response.

According to a Bloomberg report, cyber-attacks against schools and other institutions continue to rise:.

“The United States was hit by a record volume of ransomware attacks in 2019 and attackers [showed] little sign of relenting in 2020, when users spent more time on less secure networks while working from home. In 2019, at least 966 government agencies, schools and healthcare providers were attacked at a cost of more than $7.5 billion. Among those were almost 90 universities and school districts.”

This article originally appeared in the May / June 2021 issue of Campus Security Today.


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