contact tracing
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How universities can fast-track contact tracing programs

Contact tracing is seen as essential to protecting students, faculty and staff from COVID-19 outbreaks as colleges and universities remain vigilant in keeping their campuses open.

Stephen Savas, vice president for Splunk’s government and education business in the western United States, says higher education leaders can use data to their advantage for contact tracing using technologies they likely have in place on campus.

He shares ways to harness data to support for contact tracing efforts on campus in a new podcast, produced by EdScoop and underwritten by Splunk.

Using mobile data to indicate or predict hotspots

As early adopters of ubiquitous Wi-Fi, as well as student- and faculty-facing mobile apps, colleges and universities have been at the forefront of creating a “connected community” for many years, Savas says in an interview conducted earlier this fall.

These data points give higher education institutions a natural pivot to contact tracing programs. Colleges and universities typically collect a variety of operating data including wireless access point data, ID key card swipes, point of sale transactions, facility usage and Bluetooth location tags.

“All these different types of data allow universities to automate several manual and tedious processes found in traditional contact tracing,” Savas says.

‘Interaction analytics’ to build contact tracing programs

Gathering contact tracing data, however, requires leaders to also consider a number of factors, including data privacy issues, combining technology with manual tracing efforts, and coordinating with local and state health organizational requirements.

“The point is, what portion of this process can be automated to help drive scale,” Savas says.

The primary data source, at this point, is Wi-Fi access points. But there are other data points that can be used to track the association of users with one another across the campus over time, using tools like Splunk’s Interaction Analytics, he says. Monitoring the length of the mutual contact time is one of the keys to being successful for contact tracing.

“It is very important that universities understand that there is no silver bullet [to keeping campuses open]. But leveraging what they’re doing today — from a data analytics platform standpoint — is a big step in the automation process,” he says.

How colleges and universities can get started

Splunk adopted a “return to school” approach after successfully implementing programs with commercial entities looking to restart production facilities, according to Savas. After the success of these initial implementations to monitor worker movement and interactions throughout the manufacturing environments, it was a natural pivot to bring solutions to their university partners, he says.

Splunk has partnered with universities to co-create a solution through a cohort and to help them leverage the Splunk data platform to support their programs.

For example, one of Splunk’s university partners on the East Coast was able to pull data — including Bluetooth beaconing, Wi-Fi data, and lab access — and within a day, were able to start monitoring faculty and students to understand how often they interacted with each other, the proximity of the interaction and the length of time of the interaction.

Listen to the podcast for the full conversation on using interaction analytics to address public safety on campus. You can hear more coverage of “IT Modernization in Higher Education” on our EdScoop radio channels on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play, Stitcher and TuneIn.

Editor’s Note: Splunk advises that, “Any use of Splunk Interaction Analytics is likely to implicate certain state, local and federal privacy and/or data laws. Please consult any necessary professionals to ensure that your implementation is fully compliant with all applicable laws and regulations. Further, effective implementation of the tool is dependent upon significant participation by data sources and the consents provided by individuals.”

Stephen Savas has more than 15 years’ experience helping government and education organizations make the most of their IT systems, having worked for Cisco, and more recently Splunk.

This podcast was produced by EdScoop and underwritten by Splunk.