Managing School, University and Hospital Visitors
Video intercoms and visitor management systems can help campuses better control guest access.
A locked door remains one of the most effective ways to stop unauthorized visitors from entering campus buildings, and that’s a point not lost on campus administrators. A 2018 National Center for Education Statistics survey showed 94% of K-12 school campuses now keep doors locked.
But locked doors also prevent parents, patients, volunteers, students, vendors and other visitors with a legitimate purpose from entering a school, university or hospital. It’s a difficult challenge facing administrators – the need to enhance security while accommodating the needs of all stakeholders. Current security industry best practices call for a combination of video intercoms and visitor management systems at main entries as the most effective way to screen and identify visitors with minimal delays.
There are many similarities between the three types of campuses, but each is different enough to exclude a one-size-fits-all application of the technologies. Here’s a look at some of the ways schools, universities and hospitals are controlling their entries.
K-12 Campus Visitor Management
Often, K-12 students enter (and leave) the main building through a dedicated entry, unlocked briefly before and after regularly scheduled classes. It’s a good idea to have a security officer or SRO present at those times. The main public entry is primarily reserved for visitors. They push a call button on an intercom door station to reach an interior master station and begin a two-way conversation with office staff. If a visitor is approved, the master station is used to remotely open the door’s electric lock. The same arrangement works equally well at delivery bays. Faculty and staff generally use a separate entrance protected by an access control reader or keypad.
Video intercoms enable the office staff to watch for piggybacking, an event in which additional people attempt to sneak in behind an approved visitor. Some units also store pictures of visitors to micro SD cards, which can be shared with first responders in case of an incident.
Once classes begin, the intercoms can be used to admit tardy students or staff members who’ve forgotten their ID badges. Network-based video intercoms provide other convenient security enhancements. Security officers may use a smartphone app to maintain control of the system while on patrol. Multiple intercom systems can be monitored from a district security operations center, and staff can open a building for approved neighborhood groups using campus facilities after hours.
Vestibules have become a popular part of K-12 entry security best practices. Approved visitors enter through the main entrance but are then in a mantrap – they can’t open a final locked door without confirming their identity using a visitor management system.
A member of the office staff, safely behind bullet-proof glass, requests the visitor’s government-issued photo ID card to swipe through the system. Within seconds, the card’s data is checked against federal and state criminal databases and more than 700,000 names on the national sex offender registry. Campuses can add their own watch lists, including protection from abuse orders, custodial issues and the names of disgruntled former employees and students.
Once cleared, the visitor will receive a temporary badge printed with the person’s name, picture, date/time and approved areas for visitation. Badges are available that automatically fade to prevent reuse. As visitors leave, they are asked to check out using the system. A current roster of who’s on campus at any one time can be valuable during an evacuation or other emergency.
College and University Visitor Management
It’s virtually impossible to keep all college or university doors locked. Students access classroom buildings at different times, but there are still many uses for video intercoms and visitor management systems. Intercoms are perfect for managing visitors at exterior and interior entries to administrative and faculty offices, computer and records rooms, laboratories, storage facilities, delivery bays and other locations.
The intercom-visitor management combination is also ideal for dormitories. Doors to residence halls should remain locked with students using an access reader or keypad to enter. Visitors should be screened, starting with a video intercom. Resident assistants can monitor entry requests on a master station, or campuses may choose multi-tenant intercoms, which enable visitors to buzz residents’ rooms directly. Visitor IDs should be run through a visitor management system. Regular visitors may be given an identification card to avoid the check-in process with each visit.
Video intercoms embedded in emergency towers and wall-mount stations enhance outdoor security. Topped with easy-to-spot blue lights, these units directly connect a distressed person with campus security or police. Dispatchers use the two-way communication capabilities and cameras to help form response decisions. As calls arrive, dispatchers know the station’s precise location.
A station or tower arm enables the addition of a second IP-based security camera for a wider view, while an infrared camera can provide images even in very dim light. A non-emergency button is available for people needing directions or other basic campus information. Towers and stations can also be used to broadcast notifications during an emergency. Stations are typically placed along pedestrian pathways, in parking facilities and around perimeters of dorms and recreation centers. Best practices call for keeping two stations within view from any campus site as the nearest option may not always be the best choice during an emergency.
Healthcare Facility Visitor Management
A modern medical center is much more than just a hospital. Campus buildings – clinics, offices, labs, treatment centers and other facilities – are often connected to the hospital by walkways and tunnels creating multiple entries to protect. Visitors can be screened at a single unlocked public entry for each building entry. That could require multiple visitor management stations to prevent long lines. It might not be possible to staff lesser-used entries. Software can manage an unmanned system, while a vestibule with a locked door blocks entry into the building until the background check is complete and an officer in the security operations center uses a video intercom to approve the person and remotely unlock the entry.
It’s vital to stop unauthorized visitors from accessing areas such as pharmacies, emergency rooms and nurseries. Color-coded badges display areas a visitor is authorized to enter. Not controlling visitors puts hospitals at risk for fines and even loss of accreditation from federal and state regulatory agencies.
Video intercoms are also valuable for screening visitors seeking admission to sensitive or dangerous interior areas such as surgical suites and pharmacies. Emergency stations are helpful in parking areas and along walkways; also include them in interior stairwells, elevators and tunnels.
Policies and Procedures Are Important
On any campus – K-12, higher-education or healthcare – administrators must prepare written policies and procedures to ensure policies are followed and visitors are properly screened. Frequently remind students and staff not to open locked doors for anyone. Also, any visitor not wearing a proper badge in a restricted area should be challenged and/or reported to security personnel. Campus signage helps to direct visitors from parking lots to main entries and to explain the entry process.
In today’s world, it’s too dangerous to leave exterior campus doors unlocked. Video intercoms and visitor management systems provide valuable layers of security to reduce risk while accommodating visitors with a valid reason to access campus buildings.
Paul Hefty a technical sales and support engineer II for Redmond, Wash.-based Aiphone Corp. For more information, visit www.aiphone.com.