The Hidden Benefits of Real-time Occupancy Data

The Hidden Benefits of Real-time Occupancy Data

New technologies provide accurate, real-time counts of occupancy and people flow to help campus managers better allocate resources and provide a richer, safer campus experience beyond COVID

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted campus life like no other event before it. Some campuses closed completely, others were partially open. Some opened and then closed again. For campus facilities managers, the innumerable challenges of keeping students, faculty, and staff safe while requirements fluctuate have been staggering.

Campus Life Requirements
The one certainty is that campus life will return in some form in the not-too-distant future and there will be requirements to manage the flow of people throughout the campus to ensure everyone’s safety so that campuses can stay open. There are occupancy compliance technologies available that allow campus managers to accurately automate the counting of people coming in and out of buildings and rooms, and to advise people when it’s safe — or not — to enter a specific area. Real-time occupancy monitoring provides assurance that measures are in place to keep people safe without the need for additional staff.

Occupancy monitoring systems count people entering or exiting buildings, allowing managers to access real-time data indicating the number of people within their campus. Putting these sensors in individual rooms, such as lecture halls, study rooms, laboratories, libraries or communal areas, also allows occupancy tracking on a room-to-room basis to ensure social distancing guidelines and occupancy restrictions are met throughout the campus.

Setting an occupancy limit and pairing the system with visual display screens and auditory alerts mean anyone walking into these areas will be able to immediately see if they are safe to enter and ensures students, faculty, and staff do not exceed those regulations.

Adopting the use of occupancy monitoring helps managers overcome the challenge of meeting the new requirements throughout the campus.

  • Controlling occupancy. Limits for social distancing in the whole campus or for individual rooms on campus.
  • Schedules. Improving cleaning schedules.
  • Remote learning. Optimizing space that is being underused due to remote learning.

But eventually there will be a transition from pandemic life to “the new normal,” so what is the role of people counting technology as people repopulate campuses?

Campus Safety during the Transition
A critical part of returning to campus life is making people feel safe. Real-time people counting provides peace of mind by visibly demonstrating that campus facilities are being managed to the highest standard of safety.

In addition, real-time people counting helps people manage their own safety by knowing what the occupancy levels are at any point in the facilities. For example, placing occupancy display signage at each washroom allows people to know — before they enter — if the room is at capacity or not. Similarly, a display screen at the campus canteen ensures that social distancing is being maintained.

People counting systems can help transition people back to the campus life in a way that puts safety first and provides the information to empower people to be a part of the solution.

Real-time Occupancy Management for More Efficient Operations
Real-time occupancy data has value beyond managing social distancing during a pandemic. The information these systems provide improves operational efficiencies and use of campus facilities. Examples of the hidden benefits of people-counting technologies.

  • Classrooms and lecture theaters. Real-time occupancy information can be used to protect safety as well as provide historic occupancy data that can be used to understand space utilization. By analyzing this data, class and event scheduling can be improved and opportunities for significant real estate cost savings can be realized.
  • Libraries, study rooms and student centers. People-counting technology allows users to set a customized occupancy for each space, meaning occupancy in libraries, study rooms, and other facilities can be monitored to their own specifications. The system can display this information in real-time locally and remotely to empower students to locate and use underutilized — and quiet — spaces.
  • Dining halls. As well as advising students in real-time whether it is safe to enter the dining hall or not, occupancy data can be used to optimize service — from analyzing peak hours to adjust staffing, comparing utilization across different dining halls, and reducing wait times.
  • Restrooms. Occupancy data can be used to determine efficient cleaning and sanitizing schedules based on usage. The system counts people as they enter and exit a space, allowing schools to dispatch cleaning staff after a specified number of people have walked into and out of a restroom.
  • Gyms, labs or other facilities. People counting systems are not restricted to certain room types. If it has an entrance or a doorway, the system can monitor the occupancy and can help protect the safety of students and faculty using the facility, while measuring use.
  • Anti-tailgating. People counting can ensure that only the person who has paid for their ticket or has permission to enter a restricted area by alerting staff when more than one person has passed through the doorway. The system can also detect if people are walking the wrong way and alert staff to aid in keeping the flow of people moving in the correct direction at all times.
  • Space use. On a sprawling campus, it can be difficult to understand how — or how well — space is being used. Empty buildings or floors waste power and HVAC resources, increasing operational costs unnecessarily. People-counting technology provides actual use data over time so managers can make evidence-based decisions on how efficiently space is being used and track trends.
  • Safety. In an emergency, it is critical to know how many people are in a building if it need to be emptied quickly. Real-time people counting helps emergency personnel understand the scope of the situation for any potential evacuation.

People counting has value far beyond managing pandemic requirements. A well-designed system can more than pay for itself by providing the data necessary to better schedule services, shut down utilities when not needed, or best use space.

There is one very crucial aspect to occupancy monitoring: Anonymity.

Anonymity is Critical
Outside of accuracy, anonymity is the most important factor in people-counting technology. Systems that use cameras can present a privacy issue and may be perceived by students, faculty, and staff as a way to monitor them as they move around the campus. Any suspicion of surveillance is a recipe for failure, especially on a university campus.

A good occupancy system uses sensors — not cameras— to anonymously count people. The sensor should be able to count large crowds of people, all moving in different directions and be unaffected by environmental conditions such as bright sunshine or shadows.

Using sensors to anonymously count people is better than cameras not only from an accuracy perspective, but it will make the system more acceptable to those being counted.

In the short term, people counting technology is a wise investment for campus facility managers to meet pandemic mandates and keep staff safe. It can also provide significant ROI in the long run by delivering accurate data on space use and the flow of people so the best decisions can be made on which space is necessary to optimize educational opportunities in a post-COVID world.

This article originally appeared in the March / April 2021 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.

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