As Covid-19 restrictions ease and Australian universities kick-off 2021 enrolments, both domestic and international students alike will make their way back to our education providers—but not quite to life as it was pre-pandemic.
For purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) providers, the post-Covid-19 world creates considerations for welcoming back their residents.
Even before this year’s lockdowns, the PBSA sector had seen rapid change, with higher land acquisition prices in capital cities driving a quest for higher yields in recent years.
This has seen accommodation with multiple floors, more occupancy units within each cluster apartment, and maximised usage of floor space.
The resulting increase in capacity means there can sometimes be more than 1000 students living on the same premises, and their safety and security now represents a challenge.
In the wake of the pandemic, certain student accommodation requirements have become even more important, many of which can be addressed by PBSA operators with the aid of electronic access control (EAC) technology.
Managing student accommodation in a post-Covid-19 world
Security and live monitoring: Security in student accommodation has always been a top priority, ensuring that only authorised residents have access to the building. It’s also important to be able to quickly revoke access rights if a key is lost or stolen—a security breach which is hard to manage with mechanical keys or even with entry level stand-alone electronic locking systems. This becomes more important than ever in a post-Covid world, where we need to track who has been where to minimise the spread of further outbreaks.
Lockdown: the ability to keep students inside the building in the case of an external threat has long been an important security consideration. Since the pandemic, the word “lockdown” has taken on another meaning. PBSA providers need to know that, if required, they can limit access to the communal areas of the accommodation, based on government social distancing regulations.
Limited occupancy areas: With physical distancing becoming a primary safety measure, it’s important to have the ability to specify a maximum number of students at a time within a common area such as a gym, gaming or lounge room. Once the space is occupied, the next student is denied access even if they have a valid key.
Remote management: In order to limit physical interactions with residents, operators have even more reason to manage accommodation remotely. They need to reduce or eliminate situations where people have to come into contact with each other. This could be at student arrival and check-in, granting access to a room remotely when residents are locked out, or giving access to the back-of-house doors for deliveries.
Touchless and antimicrobial access control: Covid-19 has made us all aware of the number of common surfaces and objects that we touch and the importance of personal, not shared, items. So the option to replace keys or cards with the students’ own smartphone as a credential takes on new importance. To help eliminate the spread of microbes around a building, the use of door handles finished with an antimicrobial coating such as SALTO BioCote® is an additional measure that PBSA operators can consider. With such technology, microbes are not transferred from door to door by people as they go about their daily business, enhancing hygiene and safety standards for their residents.
PBSAs have always had a duty of care to their students: Operators of PBSAs need to be able to monitor a student’s activity, as well as inactivity on premises which might indicate a health issue.
How electronic access control helps to keep students safe
Electronic access control can be a valuable tool for PBSA providers, especially as they re-engage with students post-pandemic. An online system, such as those offered by SALTO, is electronic, wire-free and network connected to the cloud or an on-premise server for real-time management and configuration. Wireless connectivity makes an EAC simple and cost effective to install in an existing property, and enables efficient access management—especially across multiple properties if cloud-connected—without the need for a physical onsite presence.
Access control and visibility
A real-time EAC will ensure that only authorised students can access the building, and that operators have an audit trail of everyone who has been there. Unusual activity such as excessive door openings can also be picked up immediately. This is also invaluable for contact tracing if a Covid-19 outbreak were to occur by allowing an affected person’s pathway to be retraced within the property.
Using an EAC, the provider can manage access to the building as a whole, and also to specific facilities or spaces inside, such as communal kitchens, bike storage areas, or a gym. They can give a student access to their own bedroom but not others, helping to manage tracing.
At the Park Avenue site in Melbourne, run by The Student Housing Company, shared bathrooms are allocated by gender. The Student Housing Company uses the SALTO KS cloud system to ensure that male students cannot enter the female facilities and vice versa. At their The Boulevard site in Perth, they use SALTO KS to limit access to the rooftop pool to certain times of day.
In the case of future isolations, the provider could use their EAC to limit access to shared areas in order to enforce compliance.
A cloud-based EAC allows operators to manage their facilities remotely—this has a commercial benefit of course, but also enhances safety by reducing contact. Student check-in can be managed remotely, which avoids having staff on site and eliminates large gatherings of students as they arrive to collect their keys.
Students, including late arrivals, can be sent their mobile credentials and get instant access to their room. In fact, if the EAC is integrated with the payments system, students can complete the whole process from booking to entering their room without face-to-face contact.
If students lose their keys and get locked out, they can be back in their rooms with just a phone call rather than having contact with a staff member.
Anyone making a delivery can be given access to leave goods and parcels, again with no face-to-face contact required to let them in.
Wireless EACs use battery-operated electronic locks. The one task that does therefore require onsite presence is replacing batteries—which with average use can be up to two years. SALTO’s EAC includes an automated alert system as the batteries run down, so maintenance can be planned and managed to minimise contact.
Duty of care
Student accommodation operators have an obligation to protect all their residents, whether under or over 18. This means taking action to avoid any harmful act or omission that could have been reasonably foreseen.
Duty of care is about protecting the well-being of the student of course, but it also safeguards the good reputation of the operator and their brand.
The EAC can detect a lack of activity on any individual door, alerting that the student inside might be unwell. For the Student Housing Company, the ability for the residence office to see when a student last accessed their room is a vital part of meeting their duty of care.
The emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud-based technologies is enabling the next level of safety in PBSA management. Considering a real-time EAC such as SALTO is seen as a mandatory investment by PBSA operators seeking long-term benefits.
As they reopen their doors and welcome students back, managing facilities with visibility, and with minimal contact is essential.
In the post Covid-19 era, PBSA operators have a greater responsibility than ever to keep students and staff safe. A fit for purpose electronic access control system is an invaluable tool to make this possible and reassure residents and their families.
Cedric Duigou is Hospitality Vertical Manager for SALTO Systems in ANZ. SALTO is a global provider of electronic, wireless, real time cloud networked electronic access systems. They help PBSA providers to manage properties in Australia and around the world.
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