To protect students, faculty, and staff, the academic institution temporarily closed its multiple campuses in 2020, following the response to the COVID-19 pandemic of other major institutes of higher education.
After months of virtual learning, a promising decline of COVID-19 cases, and an available vaccine, the institution needed assistance with reopening their campuses in a safe and strategic way. The institution faced special challenges – international students make up nearly 25% of their student body, and a significant number of students are enrolled in performing arts programs. FTI Consulting was engaged to bring their multidisciplinary expertise to the situation.
FTI Consulting assembled a team of experts with diverse backgrounds in emergency preparedness planning, communications, and physical and digital risk management to assist the institution with their reopening approach. We performed a gap analysis and developed custom-made tools to assist administrators in their decision making. Our work was designed to ensure that the college was properly prepared to handle a variety of scenarios that could occur once students returned to campus.
To test the efficacy of the college’s reopening plan and assess their ability to maintain operations and communications, we conducted a virtual tabletop exercise for over a dozen of their most influential decision makers. Participants were presented with over forty likely scenarios, either caused by or exacerbated by incidents of COVID-19 on campus.
After conducting a gap analysis on the institution’s Fall opening plan, we provided guidance on a risk management approach and tools, such as a decision matrix, to better position decision makers when they are faced with decision points, specifically, which scenario of their reopening plan should be executed.
We developed a phased reopening matrix, based on proven CDC guidelines for prior pandemics. Each phase and its tactical policies to follow were aligned to the threat level of COVID-19 activity within the region, the city and towns just beyond the campus community, or within the campus community.
One of the most helpful tools we provided was a “huddle playbook,” a questionnaire to keep participants focused on the most critical factors involving university safety, human resources, supplies, facilities, housing, transportation, dining, athletics, etc. After conducting the daily huddle and answering the pertinent questions, participants were left with a heatmap of their responses, indicating risk areas on which leadership should focus to enable effective decision-making and actions.
In lockstep with the institution, FTI Consulting’s work took steps to ensure a safe reopening of a large community amid COVID-19 reopening concerns. Our multidisciplinary expertise allowed the college to reopen in a safe and orderly manner, where resources were not overwhelmed, and people were not put at greater risk.
The institution’s student body case rate was 0.52% in the Fall quarter, compared to the state county rate of 6.25%* for the same period. There were no student hospitalizations or fatalities.
While COVID-19 cases are declining and control measures are easing, the need for outbreak and vaccine management will persist as new COVID variants may emerge in the following year. The institution is well positioned to manage and respond to the evolving situation with its risk-based approach and tools.