Article by Joseph Shanahan, The Episcopal Academy
During my time as the director of campus safety for The Episcopal Academy (EA), and in my current role as the director of facilities, I have had to strike a balance between educating our community about potential threats to the campus while making sure that our employees, visitors and students feel safe and at ease on campus.
Despite our efforts to adopt an “all hazards” approach to emergency preparedness, a threat that cannot be detected with any of the five senses has become one of the greatest challenges our 235-year-old school has ever faced. The COVID-19 pandemic presented our administrative team with some unprecedented challenges that necessitated a strong crisis management response that involves a shared sense of responsibility and commitment from all stakeholders in the school community. Here are some of the ways EA has included safety considerations in our reopening plans.
In the past, a visitor to the campus would, more often than not, initially struggle to find their desired destination. With our new entrance processes in place, campus safety personnel now have the ability to initiate contact with that visitor, determine their needs and direct them to the proper parking area and building as soon as they step onto campus.
New Entry Points
Returning faculty, staff and students were given new guidelines to facilitate masking, social distancing, health screening and contact tracing. Entry points into buildings were limited and staffed with administrators who conducted health screening checks as our community arrived on campus. Following morning arrival, all health screenings and visitor vetting occurred at the main gate. This was an entirely new process requiring the construction of a temporary “gatehouse” to ensure that everyone in our campus buildings had undergone a health screening.
In the past, a visitor to the campus would, more often than not, initially struggle to find their desired destination. With our new entrance processes in place, campus safety personnel now have the ability to initiate contact with that visitor, determine their needs and direct them to the proper parking area and building as soon as they step onto campus. The appropriate EA staff member can then be notified that their visitor has arrived, assuring a more welcoming experience. As we enter a new school year, it is likely that the gatehouse will transition to a permanent front door, as it allows interaction with visitors before entry onto the larger campus.
Signs of Safety
Signage, signage and more signage. Signage encouraging masking, hand washing and social distancing, including where to stand and where to sit, was everywhere in campus buildings and grounds. Having signage across campus provided a visible reminder to our community about our commitment to safety.
As the year wore on, people became blind to the increased signage. It took tireless effort from faculty and staff members to remind our students and staff of the importance of using certain entry points, keeping physical distance and eating in the appropriate dining space. We not only had to be consistent in our messaging but experiment with various methods for getting that message across. By changing the look and location of the signage, using social media, email and in-person reminders, schools can reinforce positive behaviors that contribute to everyone’s safety and wellbeing.
To comply with social distancing guidelines, the school converted one of the gymnasiums into a secondary dining hall, and added tents throughout campus to help house the extended lines heading into these dining spaces. With the increased importance of outdoor activity came the added stress of securing these locations. The tents themselves became spaces that needed to be managed, cleaned, inspected regularly and heated. Administrative personnel from various departments served as both supervision and additional cleaning staff for our expanded indoor and outdoor dining spaces. Mobile campus safety patrols provided a security presence during outdoor recess periods.
As the school year got underway, locker rooms remained unused, many competitions were live-streamed to provide spectators with an option for watching the games, and team travel was severely impacted due to seating restrictions. One of the lessons learned through these modified athletic seasons is the importance of providing clear guidelines for spectator behavior. Areas of the campus that are designated as off limits to visiting spectators, such as locker rooms or training areas, should be clearly marked and, if possible, staffed by a school official.
Joseph Shanahan is director of facilities at The Episcopal Academy, a preschool-grade 12 day school with 1,268 students in Newton Square, Pennsylvania.