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How Digitalising School Facilities Can Maximise Efficiency In Response to COVID-19

Matthew Margetts
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While lockdown restrictions are being eased, it is likely that COVID-19 will leave a lasting legacy on our attitudes to safety and building management. As schools and colleges readjust to operating within the new norm, one thing is for certain: there is always room for vigilance when it comes to school processes. Whether to reduce costs, maximise efficiencies, or achieve optimal well-being of school-going children, smart technologies are here to stay for their extensive benefits.  

The past few months have seen the Government fast-track £200 million of £1.5 billion earmarked for the refurbishment of Colleges. According to the prime minister, this is to make Colleges “fit for the future”. Colleges are navigating the shifting landscape following the advent of COVID and, at the same time, the move towards smarter, digital infrastructure is gaining momentum. As these solutions grow in popularity, we expect to see investment in these solutions take hold as part of a commitment to school safety. With real-time reporting and detailed, cloud-based record-keeping, the demonstrable benefits make for easy accountability to governing bodies and for the purposes of financial accountability.

Colleges of the future will be smarter

COVID-19 has underscored the importance of automated, data-driven processes, which are adaptable to different building occupancies and shifting challenges. As schools, colleges, and universities around the world take the first steps towards digital transformation, the simplicity and ease of integration of some smart technologies are showing marked cost savings; streamlined safety, maintenance and operational efficiencies; and enhanced green potential.

COVID-19 considerations

Since withdrawn, the Government’s guidelines on schools’ management during COVID-19 have provided food for thought for governing bodies and facilities managers in the context of education. It is also driving the adoption of data-based smart solutions to counteract operational challenges and reduce costs. The guidelines dealt with partially closed facilities – and guidelines for full opening have since been issued. Within the school and college context, the categories outlined in the original guidelines are perennially important and, with a bearing on safety, the more precise, the better. 

Coronavirus and temperature checking 

Across different facilities, temperature screening has become a naturalised daily occurrence, with elevated temperatures a good indicator of underlying illness. In the educational setting, crowd screening technology has the potential to give live temperature readings, alerts, and access control functionality. It can also be used as a contact traceability tool when high temperatures are detected. Using infrared sensors, this technology provides medically accurate readings in real time with minimal disruptions or student backlogs.

Hot and cold water systems

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The dormancy of schools and colleges across the country has created a secondary worry around Legionella – and the latest guidance from The Department of Education encourages the usual pre-term building checks are conducted. This is an ongoing responsibility and one which is traditionally labour-intensive – involving hot and cold water temperature testing and flushing. This bacteria causes Legionnaires’ Disease, which is preventable yet potentially fatal. Automated Legionella testing removes the need for human effort, cost, potential exposure, and manual record-keeping. It also provides alerts of undesirable temperature readings and expedited response times (which, in buildings of extensive pipework, can avoid hefty maintenance bills). This smart approach to Legionella maintenance is a simple compliance tool, which will help to ensure statutory obligations and prevent sometimes punitive penalties. 

A smarter outlook on energy and green transformation

Without question, saving energy is smart – and smart technologies are leading the charge in helping schools and colleges to reduce consumption and achieve green goals. This is being achieved in a range of ways – from constant monitoring of HVAC usage, heating systems, and lighting to the development of data-driven maintenance schedules to keep equipment performing efficiently. Smart sensors can deliver real-time insights on usage and occupancy, reducing waste to a minimum. 

Compliance around fire safety monitoring

Fire safety is a key compliance concern for educational facilities. A system of smart tags and sensors can perform system tests, monitor extinguishers for tampering (notifying personnel on movement and weight changes, for instance), report on gas leaks and other risk factors, and keep a detailed, cloud-based record for compliance purposes. This removes the chance of human error and works together with smoke and fire alerts, automated roll call, and fire door monitoring to offer facilities managers a demonstrably meticulous approach to fire safety.  

There’s smart and there’s smarter

Iot (Internet of Things) solutions providers, like us, have developed a suite of smart solutions which cater to the colleges of the future. Wireless, long-lasting and cost-effective solutions combine a system of tags, sensors, and pressure pads, which transmit data over a secure and private network. These powerful tools send data to a remote dashboard in real time, with alerts for undesirable readings, breaches, and metrics – tailored to facilities owners’ buildings, assets, and needs. With a user-friendly interface, these systems also collect data for thorough record-keeping and meaningful data insights, which have the potential to inspire informed decision-making and strategic development.

As colleges continue to respond to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, it is perhaps a sensible choice for these institutions to take a small portion of any allocated funds into the areas of safeguarding technology. In doing so, such a decision will provide such facilities with a safe, secure, and environmentally friendly future.

Matthew Margetts is Director of Sales and Marketing at Smarter Technologies. His background includes working for blue-chip companies such as AppNexus, AOL/ Verizon, and Microsoft in the UK, Far East and Australia.

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