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
- By Dr. Neil Sumpter
- April 01, 2021
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
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
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
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.