By Nick Heywood, PMP, associate vice president, Guidepost Solutions.
Knowing who is on campus at any given time is an issue that schools have tried to tackle for many years using traditional paper-based processes such as a visitor log. Reliance on good visitor behavior and unreasonable expectations that people will always do the right thing are assumptions that have negatively impacted the integrity of the K-12 campus security posture.
Using the standard method of sign-in sheets and issuing badges is often operationalized with the sole intent to serve as a process check rather than to provide automated notification of a visitor concern or a means for first responders to conduct rollcall in an emergency situation.
The use of the paper visitor sign-in process should be eliminated when funding is available to deploy an electronic, software-based visitor management system that supports a process of verifying the visitor’s identity.
A school’s visitor management program needs additional physical security components to effectively support its operation and use, such as wayfinding and signage and controlled entry points. The traditional paper method simply does not address the physical operational needs to successfully support a visitor management policy. It is important to remember the power of perception and how district staff will set the example for others to follow.
For instance, all visitors, district staff or other outside contractors should, by policy, be required to sign-in daily at a main administration office, regardless of familiarity with any of these visitors. Often district personnel fail to sign-in as they are familiar to staff. Without an approved security credential specific to individual facilities and their work locations, schools are placing their greatest assets (students, faculty and staff) at risk.
Modern electronic visitor management systems support a school district’s ability to implement holistic district-wide visitor management providing much greater control. This approach, coupled with a culture in which leadership empowers its administration to enforce policies and procedures, will lead to a stronger security posture.
Single points of entry with controlled vestibules allow schools to control, monitor and approve access from a secured control point. Without the electronic visitor management system in place, school personnel may be in a situation in which they will have to confront visitors who may not be suitable to enter a school – potentially creating a stressful face-to-face encounter.
The electronic visitor management system can be used to easily conduct background checks of visitors against the registered sex offender databases in all 50 states. If a visitor is deemed not suitable to be granted access, the system provides the ability for mass notification through its software programming. Communication through these more modern systems provides a proactive opportunity for other schools within the district to receive immediate notifications of visitors and whether they should be granted access.
Another important benefit of electronic systems is the enhanced ability to serve as databases, storing significant student, parent or guardian information that can easily be accessed by system administrators and provide immediate alerts and information sharing. Traditional paper systems cannot efficiently and effectively provide this information.
Additionally, the electronic visitor management system has the capacity to photo badge each unique visitor and print specific information on the badge including location, date, and time. This feature helps control which spaces visitors are accessing, as well as prevent the individual from receiving multiple badges during a visit – thus, restricting potential reuse of an issued badge.
As with any technology system, the district will experience a cost impact. However, when the investment is made, electronic visitor management systems offer a good return on investment and in many cases can integrate with other technology systems, including access control and video surveillance.
The adoption of an electronic visitor management system, along with enforcement of policies and procedures, strong wayfinding and signage, controlled entry points, and a culture where security is paramount is of the utmost importance. Enhanced security is a benefit to all – students, faculty and staff.