Making school safety a priority with smart technology
With pupils set to go back to school on 8 March, there are a number of safety measures schools need to implement to ensure the health and wellness of staff, students and school communities.
The first lockdown and closure of schools brought on by the coronavirus pandemic fired a “warning shot” for education facilities managers, forcing headteachers to re-examine school safety standards. Now that a third lockdown is here and schools have been shut down for a second time, anyone behind the curve with the benefits of smart technology should get on board now before children return to the school environment. And with the ever-changing variants of the COVID-19 virus, schools can’t afford to be “late to class” when it comes to health and safety.
Some schools in the US have been using smart technologies for a while to measure utility consumption and efficiency, streamline maintenance and enhance general school safety. Now, these technologies are playing a significant role in keeping school buildings healthy and preventing the spread of disease.
So, let’s take a look at how smart technology can help schools to become safer, as well as more energy-efficient and cost-effective.
Thermal detection cameras
Smart cameras placed at entry points of a school can remove the manual task of temperature testing. These cameras provide medically-accurate, real-time temperatures of individuals in real-time.
Thermal cameras use infra-red (IR) to read an object’s temperature. Every item with a temperature above absolute zero emits a certain amount of radiation. The higher the temperature, the higher the level of radiation.
If a high temperature is detected, the software sends an instant alert to the relevant party, who can then follow the protocols in place. It can also be set to deny access to those with high temperatures or to people not wearing masks.
In some cases, crowd scanning and temperature-testing technology can be incorporated into existing CCTV systems, working alongside access control and alerting solutions.
This technology brings a number of benefits to schools by helping to create a safer, more compliant environment, without additional resources and by maintaining social distancing. Smart thermal cameras are safer, more accurate and more cost-effective than having a person use a handheld temperature gun.
A school in Liverpool is using thermal imaging to test whether its students can enter the school during the coronavirus pandemic. Lakeside School is a special educational needs school that remained open during the first lockdown. It uses thermal imaging technology at its entrances to test whether it is safe for people to come in by testing for high temperatures.
Head Teacher Vicky Size said: "Our new thermal imaging camera has reduced anxieties and is just one of the many measures that are being taken to ensure that we provide everyone with the safest possible environment at such an unprecedented time."
As the coronavirus continues to sweep through the world’s population, healthcare providers should also be on heightened alert for Legionnaires’ disease, another potential cause of pneumonia with similar symptoms. Legionella are potentially deadly bacteria that can infect a school’s water supply and cause an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease. It’s a school's duty of care to prevent Legionella infection by monitoring the risk of the bacteria proliferating.
Particularly as schools reopen and previously stagnant plumbing and cooling systems return to use, additional Legionella cases could rear their ugly head to emergency departments in the coming months. Traces of Legionella were recently found at a Worcestershire school. The school was forced to remain shut while treatment and testing took place.
The Health and Safety Executive advises: “If your building was closed or has reduced occupancy during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, water system stagnation can occur due to lack of use, increasing the risks of Legionnaires’ disease… If the water system is still used regularly, maintain the appropriate measures to prevent legionella growth.”
Typically, managing the risk of Legionella includes running all outlets for two minutes, taking and recording the temperature of the water to ensure that it’s not conducive to Legionella growth. This is a time-consuming process, which is why schools are looking to automated water temperature monitoring systems. This smart system with automated flushing and temperature testing reports and records water temperature data in real time. Instant alerts will notify relevant staff if water temperatures fall within “Legionella-friendly” parameters.
We know that SARS-CoV-2 can be transmitted through aerosols (particles smaller than droplets that remain in the air over time and distance). This is especially dangerous in poorly ventilated rooms, with the potential to lead to “superspreading” events.
Without any ventilation, it takes about four minutes for the number of small droplets in the air to be halved. With mechanical ventilation turned on in a room, the number of respiratory particles is halved in 1.4 minutes. If the rooms also have doors and windows open, the number of small droplets is halved after 30 seconds.
Advisers say that improving air filtration and ventilation in schools can help mitigate the potential airborne transmission of COVID-19.
- Increasing outdoor air ventilation
- Filtering indoor air
- Using portable air cleaners with HEPA filters
Smart building technologies such as advanced HVAC controls can help facilities managers promote cleaner air with less hassle. For example, smart HVAC systems use sensors to remotely monitor and control variables such as:
- Indoor air quality
- The level of carbon dioxide and other pollutants
This technology is also energy-efficient and cost-effective. If any potentially dangerous conditions are detected, the system will send an instant alert to the manager in charge, who can then intervene immediately to adjust the air quality settings. Even better, automated adjustments can be put in place to remove the need for any manual intervention at all.
Social distancing made smarter
Even before the pandemic took hold, schools and universities have been looking for ways to make campuses safer and more efficient using smart technology. The University of Nottingham has been collecting data to understand how the physical space of the campus is used. They can use this data to adjust planning accordingly. For example, they are using a wifi network to monitor the presence of people (as a proxy for footfall) in different areas of the campus.
Another option is the installation of occupancy monitoring sensors in various rooms and areas of the establishment. At the University of Edinburgh, smart space occupancy monitoring is used in the Main Library to monitor the use of study spaces. The system communicates to students where they can go within the seven floors of the building to find vacant study space.
Similarly, occupancy monitoring can be used to enforce social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic. For example, if a facility is only allowed 50% occupancy, the system can alert the relevant manager once the cap has been reached or exceeded.
A school district in New Albany, Ohio, in the United States, is taking social distancing tracking a step further. The five schools in the district (with 4,800 students) plan to test a system that would require each student to wear an electronic tag that tracks their location in real time. The system records which students and teachers are in each classroom throughout the day. Along with ensuring that social distancing is enforced, this tracking can also help with COVID contact tracing. It can help to quickly identify students who may have been exposed if someone tests positive for the virus.
While these solutions may be key to the reopening of schools in the era of COVID-19, they also bring long-term benefits. Although COVID-19 may have accelerated the adoption of smart technology, many of these solutions are focused on health, wellness and security in general; which have been needed in school systems for a long time.