Collaboration amidst chaos: meet the team keeping campus safe during COVID-19
By Natalie Lim
This article is part of a new story series that thanks frontline SFU staff for their work during COVID-19. You can read more stories here.
When students, faculty and staff transitioned to online working and learning in mid-March, the decreased activity on Burnaby campus coincided with an increase in thefts, break-ins and related public safety concerns. Team members at SFU Campus Public Safety (CPS) knew they had to act quickly to protect the safety of SFU community members still living and working on campus.
CPS handles a variety of responsibilities across SFU’s campuses. Besides responding to security and personal safety issues, it is the primary response team for campus emergencies, from water leaks to medical concerns.
Despite its increased workload due to COVID-19 incidents—and all the other functions the team fills on a daily basis—its members rolled out new security measures on the Burnaby campus in just two weeks. These included locking most exterior doors, only granting building entry to SFU community members, and tripling the number of security guards on campus.
“Nobody at the university or in the broader community has ever dealt with anything like this before,” says Andrea Ringrose, director, campus public safety. “That brought a lot of challenges and a lot of opportunities.”
Many of those challenges stem from the fact that SFU is an open campus where most of the buildings are connected to each other. The CPS team put in long hours to create a plan that would enhance safety while still allowing people to travel across campus. Team members also consulted with staff, faculty, Student Services, Residence and Housing, and other groups to ensure the solution they developed was accessible for all community members.
“The motto of these past few weeks has been collaboration, collaboration, collaboration,” says Ringrose. “Our colleagues at Facilities Services and BEST, SFU’s custodial contractor, have provided invaluable support across all three campuses. I also want to thank members of the community who identified concerns as they were moving through campus and reached out to us so we could address them.”
Amidst all this planning, the safety and well-being of CPS staff—frontline workers who are still required on campus every day—was taken very seriously.
“Due to the foresight of our colleagues in Safety and Risk Services, fittings of N95 masks and distribution of personal protective equipment happened early,” says Ringrose. “We wanted to make sure we acknowledged our employees’ reality: that unlike many other units, they weren’t able to transition to remote work.”
For Nicole Ly, a security supervisor and residence liaison with CPS, one of the biggest challenges of this new reality has been adjusting to physical distancing practices.
“So much of my job is about building relationships with students in residence and with our contract security guards,” she says. “It’s hard to do that from a distance, but I’m also lucky in a way. I get to go out, see my coworkers and connect with other frontline members every day, even if it’s from six feet away.”
As this situation stretches into the summer term, Ly plans to keep doing what she has always done: come to campus and ensure the community knows she is there to support them.
“Right now, it’s more important than ever to recognize that we need one another and that we need to continue caring for each other,” she says. “I want to make sure everyone on campus knows we will be here 24/7 through this crisis.”
In the months to come, the CPS team will need to pivot again as it begins preparing for an eventual return to campus.
“There are new phases of work to do,” says Ringrose. “We are actively thinking about how we can facilitate a safe return back to campus for all community members.”
“We’re having conversations and we’re continuing to collaborate. When the time comes, we’ll be ready to act and to be as creative as necessary.”