Pandemic Forcing Campuses to Make Big Access Control Changes

The coronavirus is impacting everything from policies to technology uses, according to the 2020 Campus Safety Access Control, Lock and Lockdown Survey.

Pandemic Forcing Campuses to Make Big Access Control Changes

As with everything else in our world right now, COVID-19 is significantly impacting many aspects of campus access control. 

When reviewing the findings of this year’s Campus Safety Access Control, Lock and Lockdown Survey, it’s important to remember that it was conducted in June when the country was reopening after the shutdown and many Americans mistakenly believed life could go on as it did before the pandemic. In July, however, the number of COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths in the U.S. skyrocketed, and many states that fully reopened dialed back their reopening efforts or made major adjustments.


The same can be said for schools and universities. By the end of July and beginning of August, most of America’s largest K-12 districts announced they would start the 2020-2021 academic year with virtual instruction only. By mid-August, only 49% of colleges still indicated they planned on an in-person fall semester, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education. In late June, that percentage was nearly 65%. By late August, many  college campuses that started out the semester offering in-person classes, including UNC Chapel Hill and Notre Dame, switched to distance learning due to a spike in positive COVID-19 infections in their student and employee populations.

With this in mind, it’s safe to assume that the number of K-12 and higher ed respondents who indicated in June that their organizations would continue distance learning as the sole option for classes has increased from the 23% recorded by this year’s survey. Additionally, now that new studies indicate children may be major drivers of the pandemic, schools and universities now are probably less confident that their organizations will be able to protect their community members from being infected by the coronavirus.

As far as the confidence level of hospital respondents is concerned, it’s probably reasonable to assume that the level hasn’t decreased as much as it has for K-12 and higher ed campuses. This is because hospitals have been on the frontline, fighting the pandemic, so they probably have always had a more realistic understanding of the coronavirus threat.

Policies and Procedures Affected Most by COVID-19

This year’s Campus Safety Access Control, Lock and Lockdown survey found that policies and procedures have been affected most, with 65% of U.S. schools and 60% of colleges saying they are limiting the number of visitors to their campuses, and nearly one in three are not allowing visitors at all due to the pandemic. Nearly two-thirds of K-12 respondents (61%) and 72% of higher ed respondents say class sizes are being reduced, and 39% of higher education survey participants say they are reducing dorm room occupancy.

Seven in 10 schools and colleges now require students, faculty, staff and visitors to wear masks. Broken down by type of campus, more institutions of higher education have adopted this requirement, with 85% requiring face coverings compared to 64% of K-12 campuses. For those individuals who might not have their own facemasks with them, 64% of K-12 and 78% of higher ed survey participants say their organizations would provide masks.

Temperature checking of faculty, staff, students and visitors is another popular policy adopted by nearly two-thirds of school respondents and a little over a third of colleges and universities. One in three schools and 26% of universities have revised their lockdown policies and procedures. A quarter of K-12 campuses and 21% of institutions of higher education have revised their emergency notification policies and procedures.

Some Considering Adoption of New, Additional Technology

There are many security technologies that can help slow the spread of COVID-19 and reduce the need for individuals to touch a doorknob or other high-touch areas. Additionally, video surveillance and intercoms can help campus staff members track compliance with face covering requirements.

Before the pandemic, a significant number of hospital, higher education and school survey respondents had already adopted many of these technologies, including intercoms (50%), proximity cards (49%), visitor management software (30%), locks with anti-microbial coatings/surfaces (28%) and smart cards (26%). The pandemic is an opportunity for campuses with these systems to expand their uses and increase the return on their technology investments.

Nine percent of respondents say they’ve newly adopted or will soon be adding visitor management software, while 7% say they’ve just bought or will soon buy hands-free door pulls. Six percent say they have recently adopted or will soon add touchless door openings, automatic doors, mobile phone credentials, facial recognition and intercoms, while 5% have just obtained or will soon get proximity card, smart card or biometric access control. About half of these systems have been or are being adopted in response to the pandemic.

Visitor management software is being considered by 19% of respondents, while 17% are considering the adoption of mobile phone credentials and hands-free door pulls. Fifteen percent are considering smart card access control, while 14% are considering touchless door openings and facial recognition via video surveillance cameras.

More than one in four institutions of higher education (28%) say they will use technology for contact tracing, while 17% of colleges and 14% of K-12 schools say they will use technology to monitor social distancing.

How Will Face Mask Requirements Be Enforced?

Numerous studies have proven that the spread of COVID-19 can be slowed when everyone wears face coverings and engages in physical distancing. However, one only needs to go online to view countless videos of arguments over someone not wearing a mask or staying six feet apart from others to understand that these confrontations have the potential to come on campus.

Enforcement of COVID-19 guidelines, however, is a real challenge, but who will enforce the rules?

Our survey found that administrators are most often tasked with enforcement (88% for K-12, 61% for higher ed and 52% for healthcare), while staff members often have this responsibility (68% for schools, 61% for colleges and 78% for hospitals). Overall, 9% said no one would enforce their organization’s mask and social distancing requirements.

The survey also found that campus police, public safety and/or security frequently are tasked with enforcement. It should be noted, however, that at this summer’s Campus Safety Online Summit, many of the campus protection practitioners who participated in the event warned against public safety officers engaging in enforcement of mask requirements. Instead, the approach they are adopting is one of encouragement and public awareness.

Visitor Management, Lockdown Hardware Issues Remain

Although COVID-19 is currently dominating practically every area of our lives, the CS 2020 Access Control, Lock and Lockdown Survey covered some other topics that apply now and will continue to apply after the pandemic.

Visitor identification is one such topic. It turns out that 46% of higher ed respondents and 43% of healthcare respondents say their organizations don’t check visitor identification before a guest is allowed entry. K-12 school districts, however, are much more vigilant when it comes to visitor management — only 14% don’t check guest IDs.

For those campuses that do verify visitor identity, police/security officers or staff are most likely the ones assigned this responsibility (44%). Video intercoms are particularly popular with schools and districts (49%), and about one in three (32%) use audio intercoms for visitor ID verification.

Another topic that is always of interest to schools, universities and hospitals is lockdown. Unfortunately, a disturbingly low portion of survey respondents (53% of schools, 42% of colleges and 38% of healthcare facilities) say their lockdown hardware is fast enough to protect against threats. About one in five overall aren’t sure.

Although campuses are currently focused on appropriately addressing the issues brought up by the coronavirus, visitor management and lockdown hardware issues will most likely continue long after the current pandemic passes.


Campus Safety would like to thank the nearly 300 school, university and healthcare security professionals who participated in this survey. We appreciate it!

This study is sponsored by:

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About the Author

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Robin has been covering the security and campus law enforcement industries since 1998 and is a specialist in school, university and hospital security, public safety and emergency management, as well as emerging technologies and systems integration. She joined CS in 2005 and has authored award-winning editorial on campus law enforcement and security funding, officer recruitment and retention, access control, IP video, network integration, event management, crime trends, the Clery Act, Title IX compliance, sexual assault, dating abuse, emergency communications, incident management software and more. Robin has been featured on national and local media outlets and was formerly associate editor for the trade publication Security Sales & Integration. She obtained her undergraduate degree in history from California State University, Long Beach.

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