Guarding the Front Door: School Visitor Management Best Practices

K-12 campuses should combine building design, video surveillance, guest management systems, policies, procedures and staff training.

Districts across the country are facing similar problems in regards to front entrance safety and security. Many school sites were constructed prior to the 1999 Columbine massacre, which brought campus safety and security to the attention of administrators, boards of education and the general public. Many of these school sites have lobbies that fail to prevent unwanted and unscreened persons from entering portions of the school that should be secured from unauthorized persons.

To further complicate the issue, many schools do not properly screen visitors to verify that they are not a sexual predator or have had their consent to be on campus withdrawn by the district. All of these factors increase the possibility of unwanted persons entering the campus and causing an incident that is unsafe for students and staff members. Many lobbies or entry points to school campuses were simply not constructed in a manner consistent with good security measures. Schools were previously designed to create a warm and inviting atmosphere to promote a positive learning environment as well as a welcoming appearance for parents and community members.

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As such, school officials are now faced with the daunting task of securing these sites from potential offenders while maintaining the feel-good environment that has become the norm for American schools. Fortunately, there are several viable options to significantly improve security without creating an institutional atmosphere.

Security improvements can range from the complete remodeling of existing lobbies to simply rearranging furniture and workspaces to better control visitor traffic.  Various technologies are emerging that can significantly reduce the chances of unwanted visitors from accessing a campus. These solutions can deter potential evil doers from targeting a site based on a lack of security measures.

Having good security practices and procedures in place can also greatly increase security and staff awareness. Additionally, these measures do not carry the high cost of construction or technology implementation.

Consider Design and Lobby Layout Changes
Newer school campuses are being designed and constructed based on solid security principles. Lobbies are designed in a manner that allows staff to control how visitors are greeted, and access is controlled though a variety of physical barriers, such as walls, doors, and casework and furniture layout. These sites have built-in security simply due to their design.

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There are many older schools, however, that are not nearly as fortunate and have wide open lobbies that essentially allow a visitor to walk from the entry door to the lobby right onto the campus. To further add to the problem, front office staff have been reduced due to budget cuts, and frequently lobbies are left unattended for periods of time allowing immediate access to secured parts of the campus. Facility improvements can reduce the open effect and assist in controlling visitor movements and entry.

Keeping in mind all pertinent fire and life safety codes, casework and furnishings should be deployed in a manner that requires a visitor to contact office staff. Even if the staff member has stepped away from the desk, the layout will imply to the visitor that access must be granted before moving past the front desk. This can be further reinforced through clearly posted signs indicating that all visitors must sign-in and present identification prior to entering the campus.

If funding is available, front lobby remodeling may be in order. Wide open corridors can be closed with storefronts that provide the necessary fire safety egress measures while ensuring unauthorized persons are not permitted through the lobby without being properly vetted. Glass storefronts with required panic hardware can greatly assist in making a school much more secure while still maintaining an open and inviting atmosphere.

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