Preparing schools for reopening after COVID-19

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many districts enacted temporary school closures, with some programs turning to online learning or remote teaching. As a quick fix, these tactics were not designed to replace traditional learning altogether. However, when considering reopening schools and universities, the priority should always be the health and safety of all students, teachers, faculty and staff first. 

Most schools and universities are creating reopening strategies that include some continued distance learning, ramp-up procedures for returning students to campus, and mitigation plans in case of a COVID-19 infection within the facility. To make sure plans for reopening schools during COVID-19 are both safe and effective, instructional and operational flexibility is essential. That’s where technology can help: updated security and building management systems have features designed to streamline operations, whether you are onsite or remote, and give everyone confidence and peace of mind.

Guide to technology to help reopen schools and college campuses

Prior to COVID-19, school safety solutions hadn’t changed all that much. However, with this unprecedented situation, K-12 schools and college campuses have an opportunity to reevaluate their safety procedures. New technology to help reopen schools can have lasting benefits and make schools safer right now, as well as for future students. When putting together your COVID-19 school safety plan, use this guide to determine which technology solutions are best suited to future-proof your facility.

Touchless entry and exit 

Touchless technology is quickly becoming the new standard for COVID-19 school safety. Upgrading to an access control system with touchless entry and exit capabilities ensures your faculty and staff don’t have to touch communal readers, PIN pads or even door handles to enter the building or secured rooms. Openpath’s hands-free access supports mobile credentials, and can also work alongside encrypted badges or keycards. This is a great solution for school campuses, where most teachers are carrying a smartphone. The system is completely touchless, too: teachers don’t even have to take their phone out or touch the reader to open the door. To create a fully hands-free experience, integrate your access control with automatic door opener hardware.

Even after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, touchless entry is more convenient for school faculty. Now your teachers can access their offices or lounges with a quick wave of their hand or an elbow to the reader, without having to balance notebooks or coffee to search for their badge.

Remote access control in educational facilities

Safety at school is always important, but many educational buildings are still lagging behind in their access control systems. Before reopening K-12 schools and university campuses, administrators should make sure their current access control systems can handle updated procedures. Many educational institutions are running on legacy systems, which have on-premises equipment that requires in-person maintenance and management. Remote management offers clear advantages when reopening K-12 schools during the COVID-19 pandemic. Administrators can manage access from anywhere, including remotely unlocking doors, changing door schedules on the fly, and checking activity logs in real-time. Plus, system maintenance and updates can be done in the cloud without a technician on-site.

Cloud-based occupancy tracking software

A cloud-based platform is the best access control system for reopening schools, as it also gives administrators more flexibility in scheduling, credentialing, and visitor management. In accordance with social distancing guidelines, many schools have opted to limit capacity in classrooms and staff rooms with rotating class schedules. To eliminate administrative burden, a cloud-based access control solution allows admins to create user groups within the platform, giving access only to those who need it on their assigned days and times. You can also eliminate face-to-face contact with digital guest passes. The Openpath platform also features a unique occupancy management feature, with real-time activity dashboards to help pinpoint areas that are over capacity.

Building management systems for reopening schools and universities

When making security updates to help reopen K-12 schools and college campuses during the COVID-19 pandemic, project management is even more of a challenge. Keeping track of each system upgrade, the necessary paperwork, as well as managing who can enter the facility, it’s easy for things to start falling through the cracks. With the added stress of ensuring the health and safety of faculty and staff, there’s a higher risk for oversight in building projects, which leads to budget overages and compromised quality — which is the last thing you want when trying to reopen your school safely. A building management system (BMS) can consolidate and streamline your project and operations oversight by:

  • Centralizing project data

  • Standardizing operational procedures

  • Eliminating surprises

  • Improving quality control

Using a building management system like SiteOwl makes installing new technology easier prior to reopening the school. The platform focuses on three main areas: design, installation, and maintenance. Whether you’re doing a full rip-and-replace of your ventilation system, or adding a few new touchless access control readers or surveillance cameras, having a clear visual of your project keeps you on top of everything. The building management platform allows you to view and create digital floor plans, with live status reports of every device in your system. Having remote access to assign, manage, and provide instructions within the app reduces the burden on project management and operations teams. 

A robust building management system is a beneficial piece of technology to reopen college campuses with multiple buildings, sister schools or annex locations. The system keeps the entire project organized in a single interface, and can be managed from anywhere. The remote system allows for better collaboration, reducing errors due to miscommunication. Quality control photos help you ensure everything is installed correctly without having to be on-premises. And it minimizes face-to-face interaction during installation. 

With the cyclical nature of reopening schools and universities during the COVID-19 pandemic, having an easy interface to pause, restart, and manage your upgrade project will save your team time and hassle, as well as allow project budget fluctuations. As major installations are often done in phases, a BMS helps keep your project on track, minimizing downtime to make adjustments (it can all be done in the app), and making it easy to pick up where the team left off when it’s time for the next phase. Plus, you’ll know who has access to your building at any given moment for enhanced security throughout the process.

Emergency school safety solutions

In school environments, preparedness is key for dealing with emergencies. Most educational facilities are well equipped with alarms and drills for fire safety and natural disasters. However, reopening K-12 schools during COVID-19 presents a new set of emergency preparedness challenges. In order to protect students and faculty, the best school safety technology not only alerts officials to current problems, but also helps mitigate risk during emergencies, and acts to prevent them altogether. 

Creating a proactive emergency plan is the first step to reopening schools during COVID-19. Understanding that school operations will likely be different from a normal year, your emergency plans should include additional policies in case of an outbreak. Safety procedures should also be ready if your building has to scale back on the number of students allowed in the school, or if operations need to be suspended temporarily. With frustrations high and so many factors at play, leveraging technology can help schools be more prepared for emergencies.

In the event you need to lock down your school campus, it’s crucial to be able to do it quickly and efficiently with your school’s COVID-19 safety technology. A cloud-based system with remote access enables administrators to trigger a lockdown plan from anywhere. Creating lockdown strategies for different situations is a proactive safety solution, taking into account different buildings and structures that might need their own plans, such as a parking garage. You should also look for a lockdown plan that automatically contacts emergency responders in the event of a lockdown, saving time when it matters most. The award-winning Flexible Lockdown solution from Openpath is free for 501(c)3 organizations and educational facilities. 

Schools and universities should have top-of-the-line security cameras installed, and use a cloud-based video management system. Remote access to the video footage is crucial during COVID-19, when empty schools may become a target for crime. If you’re in the midst of updating your building’s hardware, a management platform like SiteOwl helps identify needs for maintenance at the device level, and alerts administrators to potential weaknesses in security. Once schools begin to welcome students and staff back to the building, your video management system and access control can work together to create a safer campus environment. 

Reimagining school safety for COVID-19

Reopening schools will not be a linear process. Welcoming students back to in-person classes will likely be cyclical according to infection rates, and schools will need to be flexible and accommodating government and local mandates. This is important when looking at your school security budget. Understand that updates will probably be done in phases, focusing on the most-used spaces first where they will have the most impact on reopening schools and campuses during COVID-19. 

While making technology updates, there are additional ways to reimagine on-premises classes during the pandemic. Reduce viral load indoors by installing a high-efficiency HVAC and ventilation system, which is recommended by the CDC. You can also use your access control system to track occupancy rates in common areas like lunchrooms, gyms, faculty or dorm lounges, and conference rooms. If you notice certain spaces are consistently over capacity, consider implementing stricter policies to mitigate risk. 

For universities and faculty amenities, you can implement a user management system that can automate occupancy through requests to use the space. You may also require temperature screenings or self-wellness attestations for staff before they’re granted building access. 

Adjusting your COVID-19 school operations to reopen doesn’t have to be a huge headache. As you rethink your COVID-19 school safety technology, utilizing cloud-based management tools reduces administrative burden while creating a safe learning environment for everyone.