COVID-19 Task Forces Are Developing Back-to-School Response Protocols

Back in March 2020, many of us thought the impact of COVID-19 would be dissipated by the start of the 2020-2021 school year. But as the summer comes to a close, schools and universities are still working to figure out how to educate students in a safe environment, including launching COVID-19 Task Forces.

Before the start of the fall semesters, experiences during the summer proved that children were not immune from the virus and that they were capable of spreading it. For instance, 250 children, teens, and staff tested positive after attending a camp in Georgia, and 80 people tested positive after attending a church camp in Texas—nearly 50 and 25 percent of attendees, respectively. The disease also swept through a private school in Chile and a daycare in Australia. Obviously, summer camp and educational facilities are different, but many educators believe these “super-spreader” events gave the nation some critical insights into what happens when organizations open too quickly. 

With a recommended six feet of distance between each student, the close quarters of schools, camps, and other academic organizations make COVID-19 an almost unsolvable puzzle. To minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19, many schools have opted for remote learning, also known as distance learning. 

But, that’s not the case for every school district, as response plans to the pandemic are still largely managed on a state-by-state basis, often with each district tailoring its own response. With the importance of in-classroom education in mind, many educators and administrators are gearing up for the 2020-2021 school year, ironing out how they’ll ensure all of their students are following COVID-19 protocols, how they’ll respond to positive cases, and transition to another shutdown if need be.

While few organizations are openly publishing their 2020-2021 school year plans, decision makers can study a handful of resources to help establish their standard protocols for COVID-19. To aid in the research process, incident authority, SimpleSense, voluntarily compiled an expansive list of resources that are completely free to browse, view, and use.

Return To Work Trello Board: An exhaustive collection of return-to-work policies and procedures focused on physical security.

Finding Resources

Once it was clear the coronavirus pandemic showed no signs of stopping, universities and schools decision makers started carefully considering how, exactly, they were going to reopen safety in the fall. From forming COVID task forces and trading notes with other educational organizations to joining online security forums and performing ad-hoc Google searches, security professionals were leaving no stone unturned, or perhaps, no source unsearched.

But it’s not necessarily a lack of information; it’s the impracticality of keeping up with all of it while also sorting through the most critical information.

“The continuity of information flow is a challenge,” says Director of Emergency Management at the University of Delaware, Mike Seifert. “The content is not really a problem; it is more the pace with which leaders are able to keep up.”

Like many security professionals, Seifert took to the web to find methods of keeping students and staff safe through the reopening. Some of the best resources include the:

In conjunction with his own research, Seifert also traded notes with other universities, using the Disaster Resistant Universities COVID-19 Virtual Collaboration Center to share best practices.

To get a closer look at what’s included on the Back-to-Work Trello board, SimpleSense divided our response protocol resources into four categories:

  1. Practical Examples
  2. Risk Management Frameworks
  3. Data Sources and COVID-19 Surveillance
  4. Operating Modes, Tiers, and Phases

Practical Example: Women’s Flat Track Derby Association

 The Women’s Flat Track Derby Association’s (WFTDA) COVID-19 built guidelines to “slowly return to roller derby activity in a tiered format that takes into account the impact of the virus and the availability of medical treatments to combat the virus.” A school or university is obviously not the same as a sporting event. However, WFTDA strikes an excellent balance of detail and user-friendliness with the layout and design of its guidelines. It features seven tiers and clearly defines what triggers the next tier or reversion to the previous tier.

Risk Management Frameworks

American Society for Industrial Security (ASIS)

If you’re looking for a springboard to reinforce your business continuity plan, visit the American Society for Industrial Security’s Business Continuity Guidelines. Currently, this guide is accessible to non-members of the ASIS, so be sure to drop by while it’s publicly available. It reviews the five critical preparatory steps required to provide a strong foundation for building a continuity plan:

  • Assign Accountability
  • Perform Risk Assessments
  • Conduct Business Impact Analysis
  • Agree on Strategic Plans
  • Crisis Management and Response Team Development

Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security

Risk assessments can assist educational organizations in examining the likelihood of viral transmission when they reopen as well as the potential public health consequences if transmission occurs. This resource can help identify practices that may result in elevated risk and alternatives that may reduce risk through modification and mitigation measures.

Centers for Disease Control (CDC)

The CDC provides a myriad of information for educational stakeholders from written resources and videos to printable posters and online infographics. Their documents offer consideration for institutions to help protect students and staff and slow the spread of COVID-19. 

Data Sources & COVID-19 Surveillance

In order for educational organizations to help keep their students and staff safe, they need accurate, timely, county-level information on how many confirmed cases of COVID-19 there are in the areas surrounding their campuses and schools. Instead of manually surfing dashboards, security experts and stakeholders can save locations and collect COVID-data all in one place:

Security Executive Council

Created by a leading global security practitioner and his team, this report can be used for schools and universities that are phasing into reopening. The Council’s Return to Site Risk Model is a real-time “dashboard” utilizing data from John Hopkins COVID-19 data, the Center for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, and other sources.

The Security Executive Council also published a comprehensive list of 15 key enterprise measures for COVID-19 risk drivers and 33 security response measures for COVID-19 security response.

Operating Modes, Tiers, or Phases


OpenSmartEDU developed a COVID-19 planning guide and self-assessment for higher education. It’s designed to be a practical planning tool to help institutions in two ways:

  1. The guide poses four central questions to determine if your institution is prepared to reopen for each major COVID-19 Phases.
  2. The guide is organized into leadership, cross-functional, and functional workgroups to support comprehensive planning efforts across various institutional groups.

The guide and self-assessment also contain links to guidelines, resources, and media reports to supplement institutional planning further.

International Facility Management Association

There isn’t a ‘silver bullet’ approach to handling COVID-19. However, this guide by the International Facility Management Association puts forth a framework to organize orchestrated responses, enabling each organization to embrace measures it perceives as effective. 

National Safety Council

The National Safety Council published the Safe Actions for Employee Returns (SAFER) framework for levels of COVID-19 response protocols. Although it is difficult to predict the future state of the world, educational institutions that consider a leveled response will have a better chance at adapting to new restrictions efficiently with fewer pain points for their staff.

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