UCF turned to simulation software to simplify what could have been a chaotic check-in when students returned to campus this month.
The results appear to have been a success. A survey distributed to students found 97.3 percent satisfied with the process.
Most students were in and out in between 18 and 22 minutes at a time when coronavirus introduced a new variable.
“It’s been a huge success,” project manager Lucrecia Krause said. “We want to give an example to the industry of how we can be creative. Simulation is not just for factories and Disney. It’s for things we do every day.”
The challenge was straightforward, even if the solution was not.
How do you get 6,000 students checked in over two weeks safely?
To accomplish that, a team created hypothetical scenarios, ran them through a simulator and tweaked several variables.
The team had about a month to develop the check-in procedures, which would be the first in the midst of a mass pandemic.
They created 15-minute windows for students to check in after researching other businesses, such as doctors offices.
For instance, the research uncovered that those sites typically give 2-hour windows for patients to arrive.
However, when that happens, most get to the office either at the start or end of the window.
“We didn’t want to put these students into something that was uncomfortable,” she said. “We needed to use data for decision making.”Tweet
That creates the kind of logjam UCF wanted to avoid.
The project included 80 people helping check students in and pathed students to two parking lots.
One was for a COVID-19 test, the other distributed welcome packets.
Krause said seeing on the news that some food banks and other coronavirus testing lines took more than four hours was intimidating at first.
“We didn’t want to put these students into something that was uncomfortable,” she said. “We needed to use data for decision making.”
The simulations gave researchers the ability to adjust specific variables, such as which parking lots to stage at or where to direct students.
“For us, when we do simulation, we take into account where people are, how they are moving in,” said UCF assistant profess Adan Vela.
The computer model laid out where COVID testing stations might be, along with how many students would walk, drive or take an Uber to campus.
We will find that banking, hospitals, Disney, UCF will have to find their own new ways of how folks get service. Part of that is understanding outcomes when we have certain procedures in place.Adan Vela, UCF
“At that point, we really didn’t know,” Krause said. “We had an estimate but we didn’t know who was coming and how they were going to get here.”
Central Florida has one of the more-robust simulation industries in the U.S., with companies in aviation, space and education contributing.
That could bode well in the future, as coronavirus will permanently change how things get done, Vela said.
“We will find that banking, hospitals, Disney, UCF will have to find their own new ways of how folks get service,” he said. “Part of that is understanding outcomes when we have certain procedures in place.”
Krause said the simulations were crucial to UCF not just reopening safely but also quickly.
“You don’t want to just hope for the best,” she said. “You want to simulate what it’s going to look like and will our process going to handle it? We want to fix things before they happen.”
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