Integrating Safety and Health
How your existing access control system holds the key to a safe school reopening
- By Ron Baer
- December 08, 2020
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:
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.