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COVID-19 Case Study: Polytechnic Gearing Up for Fall Activity

Organization: A university in southeast Asia with 15,000 students on a 75-acre campus.

Key issues:
• Staff and student safety
• Campus shutdown
• Cybersecurity for remote education

23 July Update

About two-thirds of the way through its spring/summer semester, the technical institute has been implementing its gradual reopening strategies. Lectures at the polytechnic remain online only, but tutorials and workshops for classes up to 20 students have started to resume face-to-face instruction. Students must sit in designated places, which have been spaced to allow sufficient distancing, during each class. Start and end times of in-person classes have been adjusted to minimize personal interaction between classes.

Staff, students, vendors, and visitors must check in and out of campus using a national digital check-in system. Upon entry, they all are subject to temperature and symptom screening.

Masks are mandatory for most, though teaching staff may opt for face shields in appropriate teaching settings. So far, no instructor has refused to return to teach onsite classes. Everyone on campus is urged to maintain a high standard of hygiene and keep their distance from others. The approach seems to have worked so far, with COVID-19 numbers flat or declining.

Limited dining has resumed as well. Previously, take-out was the only option. In the newest phase, groups of five are permitted to eat on site as long as no one is sitting directly across from someone else.

28 May Update

The institute is following the government’s lead on when all students, faculty, administrators, and other staff can return to campus safely. Currently all classes are only online. As of 1 June 2020; however, practical and lab sessions will resume face-to-face classes. Lectures will remain virtual only. The next phase will open the campus to more in-person classes and activities. The final stage will be a “new normal” for the country, in which gatherings can resume with a limited number of participants. This new normal will be in place until an effective vaccine or treatment is developed for COVID-19.

Students who return to campus will be required to wear either face masks or face shields. No Plexiglas dividers have been installed, but students will be spaced throughout class areas and labs to ensure social distancing. In areas with higher traffic, sticker markings cover the ground to indicate proper spacing and traffic flow. Gloves will also be required in labs. Food will be served in designated areas only, and with social distancing measures enforced.

Those returning to campus must pass through a thermal scanner to ensure they have a normal temperature. The institute is using an artificial intelligence facial-focused screening system that screens up to 15 people simultaneously. It also uses a “black body,” a box that emits a constant level of heat to provide real-time temperature calibration against ambient temperature.

If someone is flagged for excessive temperature, they wait 5 minutes in an isolation room before the temperature screening is repeated. Failing a second time triggers a third test. If a person is flagged for an elevated temperature a third time, he or she is asked to seek medical advice.

Though most classes remain virtual for the foreseeable future, students are likely to stay enrolled because the government subsidizes education at technical institutes up to 90 percent.

As of mid-April 2020, the institute had resumed in-person classes for security officer training, earlier than it opened other schools that train in practical schools. This earlier opening reflects the increase in demand among national facilities for trained security officers.

April 2020 Update

This technical university in southeast Asia—which has a 75-acre campus and serves about 15,000 students—initially treated the COVID-19 outbreak as an influenza event, activating its business continuity practices and assembling its executive level crisis management team. Below the university-wide level, crisis management teams were established at the school, department, and team levels, particularly for ease of communication. Over time, meetings shifted from ad hoc to daily, covering issues such as the campus shutdown, student and staff safety, cybersecurity, crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED), standard operating procedures for handling suspected COVID-19 cases, and work-from-home arrangements.

The security and safety professionals at the university organically set up informal online chat groups to exchange best practices on how to deal with the quickly changing situation and how to confirm the credibility of news. When the country’s alert system was upgraded to a high level, the nation ministry of education formed a task force and provided universities with formal instructions, recommendations, guidelines, and updates daily.

The university shut down on 7 April. As a commuter school, the university didn’t need to clear any dormitories or other on-campus housing. Each student has his or her own locker, however. The university established a grace period for small groups of students at a time to remove their items before the campus closure If a student needs to return to school for any reason, such as to monitor an ongoing experiment or retrieve an important item, they must receive permission from their department head and school directors. Only essential services which require physical presence at the school are allowed, such as facilities management and security.  

Only a few students—fewer than five—have contracted COVID-19, and they were quarantined until they returned to health.

A new semester began on 20 April, with all classes conducted virtually. As of late April, the university was planning to reopen its campus on 4 May. However, the government has extended the closure until at least 1 June.

The school originally used Zoom as a video-conferencing platform for meetings and classes, because students and many staff were comfortable with it. However, Zoombombing attacks soured the administration on that technology. Those security concerns convinced the school to switch to Microsoft Teams and Google Hangouts, which have required some training and getting used to.

Another significant concern has been the mental health of students and staff. The university set up anonymous hotlines for staff and students to seek help and support during this stressful period. The administration also emails regular updates to the student body and staff.

Traditional graduation ceremonies have been canceled, although some students have banded together to hold their own virtual ceremonies using the video game platform Minecraft. The school is offering new graduates credit toward courses that will aid their job search. The school has also stood up a job Kickstarter program with job opportunities and career coaching to help new graduates find work in a difficult economy.

All students and staff who have returned after a specified date were placed on stay-home notification for 14 days by order of the ministry of education.  All overseas travel was strongly discouraged for the staff and students. 

The campus is currently shut down. Only essential services which require physical presence in the school are allowed. 


Michael Gips, JD, CPP, CSyP, CAE, is the principal of Global Insights in Professional Security, LLC, a firm that helps security providers and executives develop cutting-edge content, assert thought leadership, and heighten brand awareness. Gips was previously Chief Global Knowledge Officer at ASIS International, with responsibility for Editorial Services, Learning, Certification, Standards & Guidelines, and the CSO Center for Leadership & Development. Before that, as an editor for ASIS’s Security Management magazine, he wrote close to 1,000 articles and columns on virtually every topic in security. In his early career he was an attorney who worked on death-penalty cases.

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