Campus security: Safe spaces

In the face of Covid-19, Julie Barker, non-executive director of CUBO and founder of Julie Barker Associates, talks about how campus security is adapting to the current situation and meeting government guidelines

We are working in challenging and fast-moving times and college and university campus security services professionals are at the frontline, steering and managing the safe management of their premises and looking to ensure students that have to remain on campus (due to the fact they are unable to return home in the face of flight and border closures), are safe, and that their wellbeing is protected.

With the current Covid-19 outbreak still ongoing, no one quite knows what the next few months will bring. Right now, all unis are closed as instructed by the government, with the exception of halls and catering areas that service those students still in residence in halls.

There is no question that for any international student who is self-isolating away from their families, it will be a difficult time. University res-life (residence life) teams are working hard to ensure that those in isolation or with no facilities, who may well be experiencing stress and anxiety over their situation, will be provided with a more comprehensive package to give them support and monitor their wellbeing.

Different arrangements will be available on different campuses dependant on site, factoring-in student numbers still on site and the facilities available – for example, those with shared kitchens may be expected to cater for themselves with res-life support structures to ensure they are OK and have someone to contact. There are also extensive virtual wellbeing packages available.

What this all means in reality is that frontline staff, including security teams, catering staff, caretakers, res-life teams and facilities teams are now the only staff on site with the exception of some essential research – eg medical – but even then it will be only key staff by arrangement.

And, as a result, academic buildings will have been secured fully with security patrols and CCTV monitoring. In the majority of cases, halls and supporting areas will be the only areas open and inevitably, these will be closely monitored.

Student and staff wellbeing and safeguarding are linked in with security and access control. For example, many universities are currently looking carefully at how they manage campuses, actively monitoring who comes on site and who is on site – with CCTV and the use of smartcard systems – in order that they can understand what is happening on campus.

This approach doesn’t have to be costly or complex, and can provide valuable audit trails for staff, student and visitor movement. Right now, it has become a security imperative.

In some ways the securing of the buildings is no different to that which is done over the Christmas period. The difference with this situation is not only ensuring the site is secure, and remains secure, but the ‘human’ aspect – regular communication with those on site, student wellbeing, being able to provide for them and having the resources within the team to do so.

Inevitably, there will be learnings to take away from this national crisis both across emergency preparedness (no emergency plan would have covered the truly exceptional circumstances we all find ourselves in today) and procedures and processes that impact on the frontlines.

There are many unknown quantities with the current situation, but frontline staff are absolute heroes and are working hard to respond to the changing situation as it evolves on a daily basis.

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