Integrating Safety and Health

How your existing access control system holds the key to a safe school reopening

Preparing to open schools each year has always involved repairs and replacements, but the COVID-19 pandemic has upended that process. The nature and immediacy of the threat, paired with future uncertainty, has raised questions about the best strategies to protect students. Protecting students’ ability to learn safely requires reconnecting space use and door opening touch-points that allow us to move through a school. And though novel solutions are anticipated, they are typically not being subsidized by budget increases.

With the end of 2020 nearing, educators are grappling with if and how students and staff will safely return in the New Year.

Existing Access Control as Part of the Solution

Educators in the United States can significantly improve safety with creative solutions for the products and building architecture already in place. In Denmark, classroom spacing requirements, corridor management, routine disinfection, and requiring student hand-washing every two hours have helped contain the virus. Rather than spending thousands on new technology, school officials can use their existing access control system to mitigate the spread of germs.

Limiting Touch, Limiting Access: Complementary Goals

The threat of active assailants made the need for lockdown security clear, pushing educators to make substantial safety investments. Access control solutions were central to this evolution: from the installation of new locks, doors, gates, and signage, to new procedures for moving through increasingly fluid spaces.

It requires a similar long-term commitment for schools to successfully address the threat of COVID-19 and future pandemics. Many U.S. schools already have the staff and decision-making infrastructure needed to act quickly in the face of outside threats — now is the moment to call on these stakeholders for the shared purpose of health and safety.

Limiting access on campus is one approach that builds on the learnings from lockdown security. Educators should evaluate access and egress points to efficiently manage traffic flow (in non-emergency scenarios) and effectively support social distancing guidelines. Once mapped, traffic can be managed through existing access control systems by locking certain entries and redirecting traffic using wayfinding signage.

Additionally, many state and local COVID-19 protocols recommend the reduction of touchpoints in buildings. According to a recent study, 78% of respondents believe that touching door handles would increase their likelihood to contract coronavirus, topping the list of concerns.

Touchless solutions are designed to reduce the risk of virus transmission while providing visitors with a sense of safety as they move through the school. For example, hands-free arm and foot pulls can be affixed to existing doors as a simple, cost-effective solution to reduce touch.

Reconsidering Traffic Flow

Managing traffic flow offers an opportunity to reorient existing facilities toward methods that reduce germ transmission. This can include extending time between classes to allow for longer routes and encouraging students to move more diligently through the halls.

Educators are also planning the creative staggering of class times, arrival or release times, or even altering the school schedule to decrease the number of times students change rooms. For example, if a student traditionally attends science class for one hour three times a week that can be changed to a three-hour class once a week.

Reimaging Available Space

Outdoor space is typically preferred to help reduce transmission. Leveraging larger school areas like gyms, common areas and theaters can increase the space between students or help to reduce class sizes. As community use of school facilities increases around the country for large events and emergency planning, it’s important that these spaces remain flexible in light of increasingly fluid requirements.

Educators face unprecedented pressure to eliminate physical and biological risks in schools. When this pandemic eases, however, the solutions implemented must offer longterm value. Keeping students and staff safe and secure will remain a key priority for school officials, but with this pandemic, wellbeing must also be considered. Planning for a safe return should recognize how access control integrates the overlapping concerns of health and wellness with safety and security.

This article originally appeared in the November December 2020 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.

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