COVID-19 & Higher Education: How U.S. Universities can Better Prepare for Emergencies

As the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) outbreak spread across America, colleges and universities nationwide quickly adjusted their educational and operational approaches. Many transitioned their classes online and advised students to leave campus. While this is a sensitive situation, there are certainly a number of key lessons to be learned from an emergency preparedness perspective.

A recent McKinsey & Company report examines the impact COVID-19 has had on higher education institutions and takes a deep dive into how they can better prepare for the next emergency situation.

We have summarized some of their key findings below along with our own recommendations on how colleges and universities can better prepare for emergency situations:

Integrated Nerve Center

McKinsey & Company emphasizes that universities should develop an Integrated Nerve Center – a simple, flexible and multidisciplinary organization that adapts to fast-changing conditions while also ensuring safety and maintaining operational functions during an emergency situation. There are FOUR key actions that need to take place to create this Integrated Nerve Center:

  1. Take a close look at the situation at hand. Analyze how it is changing and seek input from a wide range of audiences, including students, faculty, staff, parents, alumni, and more.
  2. Make decisions quickly. During an emergency situation, time is of the essence and it is imperative to decide your next steps and best course of action fast. You may not have all the facts, but you will need to decide your next move in a timely fashion.
  3. Prepare your immediate and strategic action plan and be ready to execute. Be fluid and nimble realizing that you may have to make adjustments along the way.
  4. Put your action plan and solutions into practice but stay flexible.

Smart Technology for Emergency Preparedness

Having partnered with colleges and universities for over 100 years and watched them evolve, we’re going to take McKinsey & Company’s emergency preparedness recommendations a step further and suggest that universities also “Invest” in smart technology as part of their emergency preparedness planning.

One example of a smart technology solution is electronic parcel lockers. Electronic parcel university lockers, like those offered by Parcel Pending by Quadient, are an important addition to a university’s emergency preparedness plan for three main reasons:

  1. They streamline campus mailroom functions thereby saving valuable staff time
  2. They help universities provide a seamless package management experience for students and staff even during emergency situations
  3. They provide a contact-free package pick-up option to help promote social distancing and protect students and faculty

Let’s take a closer look at the main benefits smart lockers provide to colleges and universities:

Provide a Premium Student Experience

College students nationwide are shopping online now more than ever. And they’re not just buying textbooks. College students are purchasing everything from groceries and meal deliveries to electronics, clothing and more online. And don’t forget that their family members and friends are also regularly shipping them care packages and gifts. All of this adds up to a large amount of student packages being delivered to college and university campuses. In fact, it is estimated that approximately 31 packages per student are delivered every year, and this number is expected to grow by more than 13% annually.

However, the reality is that campus mailrooms were designed for the majority of their volume (70 percent) to be mail and the remaining 30 percent to be packages. That is simply not the case in today’s world where online and mobile shopping are the go-to shopping methods for students and their family and friends.

As a result, campus mailrooms – which often lack space – are overflowing with student packages. This daily influx of student packages forces mailroom staff to spend countless hours accepting and sorting packages and deliveries and facilitating pick-up.

“Incoming parcel volumes are at record highs, and students have elevated expectations around how quickly they receive their packages. Decision-makers are not setting themselves up for success if they don’t assess their end-to-end process and embrace technology so campus mailrooms are equipped to address evolving needs.” —Amanda Taylor, public relations advisor, FedEx 

Electronic lockers are the solution to the package problems that many colleges and universities are facing. Electronic lockers keep packages and deliveries safe and secure and make it quick, easy and convenient for students to retrieve their packages at their convenience 24/7. University mailrooms no longer need to worry about students rushing to the mailroom before it closes to pick-up their packages. In fact, up to 80 percent of packages can be delivered directly to parcel lockers freeing up mailroom staffers to focus on other tasks. Furthermore, smart lockers also eliminate package theft and missed deliveries, save on space since they are not individually assigned like traditional mailboxes and easily integrate with university mailroom software platforms to ensure a premium student experience. 

Save Valuable Staff Time

Electronic parcel lockers remove the chaos of on-campus mail delivery and package management by assuming all customer service responsibilities for mail and package delivery, notification and retrieval. In fact, Parcel Pending by Quadient’s locker solution can reduce package management labor resources by as much as a third and up to 80 percent of packages can be delivered directly to Parcel Pending’s lockers freeing up staff to focus on other tasks.  Saving on mailroom staff time is especially important during an emergency situation where manpower typically needs to be reduced but operational functions must remain in-tact.

Adjusting to “The New Normal”

One trend that we are seeing among the ‘new normal’ brought on by COVID-19 is the demand for contact-free package retrieval options. Electronic lockers provide a contact-free way for students and faculty to retrieve their packages at their convenience, without having to congregate in long student mail center queues.

Additionally, this new normal has impacted the operations of universities and colleges. For instance, some faculty and mailroom staff may have been furloughed. Electronic lockers become a viable and affordable option for colleges and universities looking to maintain a seamless package management experience. From an operational standpoint, smart lockers allow for a streamlined package management approach with limited staff involvement. This way, students and faculty can still receive their packages and university mailrooms can more easily track, monitor and manage any backlog of student or faculty packages.

“Higher education mail services are looking for advice on how to organize and respond, and are looking for ways to manage a “contact-less” environment. The universities that installed parcel locker systems on their campuses say it has “saved them” as they handle the backlog of student packages and now as they manage parcels for faculty and staff.” – Christopher O’Brien, Executive Vice President, Business Process Automation, Quadient

In summary, higher-ed institutions from around the world are facing an unprecedented challenge. The ability to adapt and implement effective solutions by leveraging smart technology will be critical to ensuring the safety and wellness to higher-ed students, faculties and most importantly, to improving the resiliency of these institutions.


  1. McKinsey & Company, “Coronavirus and the campus: How can US higher education organize to respond?” March 2020. Available at:
  2. Spaces 4 Learning, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Intelligent Parcel Lockers Streamline the Campus Mailroom” Available at: