Who’s On Your Campus? Making Visitor Security a High Priority at K-12 Schools

Visitor management software allows K-12 campuses to screen for sex offenders, monitor child custody, track hours worked by volunteers and staff, monitor students who leave school grounds for field trips and provide data on who comes and goes from campus facilities.

The use of safety and security measures is growing at public schools. The National Center for Education Statistics reported in February that, during the 2009-2010 school year, 92% of schools said they control access to the building during school hours — up from 75% in the 1999-2000 school year. Sixty-three percent of schools during the 2009-2010 school year said they require faculty to wear badges or picture IDs during school hours, which was up from 25% 10 years earlier. Visitor check-in has been a high priority throughout the past decade, with 96% of schools saying they required visitors to sign or check in during the 1999-2000 school year, and nearly all schools (99%) citing this requirement during the 2009-2010 school year. 

Paper Logs Pose Security, Privacy Risks

Different visitor management approaches yield different levels of security, however. While some school officials believe that a quick and easy, paper-based badge and visitor log is all they need, this approach is vulnerable to a variety of security risks. It also does not communicate a high level of professionalism.  It eliminates any opportunities to analyze visitor trends and patterns, or quickly flag visitors who are either not permitted on campus or need special handling. Worse, in a fire or other emergency, it would be impossible to quickly determine who is still in the building, since it is often difficult to read names and/or check-out times have not been consistently recorded.

Visitor self-registration performed at a kiosk is generally not recommended in the school environment, even though over-burdened administrative staffs are often initially attracted to the solution because of its apparent efficiency. The truth is that kiosk use in a school environment could actually add risk rather than reduce it. Any school visitor management system should involve someone on staff making direct eye contact with every person who enters the building. This helps to prevent a visitor from trying to circumvent security measures.  For instance, visitors left alone at a kiosk system might enter false information — i.e., a fake license, name spelling or birthdate — in order to avoid getting flagged as a match on sex offender registries. 

Access, Visitor Management Systems Often Integrate

Schools that use an access control system for staff and employees may also be able to use visitor management software to provide temporary card access to guests, contractors and other people, which is another advantage that enhances both security and the professionalism of the school. This avoids the need to escort visitors to their destination, or worse, having a stack of active access control cards that they hand out to visitors needing to move freely throughout the facility. Access can be provided directly from the visitor system without having to interact with the security system. 

Visitor management systems are easy to use, and training can be completed in an hour or less. They can be implemented on a PC at the lobby reception desk or another point of entry.  These systems automate the entire visitor registration process, including gathering information from the visitor, screening the visitor against any internal and/or external watch lists, and creating the visitor badge. (See 4 Steps to Effectively Using a Visitor Management System.)

Systems Can Issue Warnings About Sex Offenders

Some school districts have set up their systems so that, at check-in, a warning will alert the lobby attendant within seconds if a visitor is listed as a registered sex offender. An automatic E-mail alert is also sent to other school administrators and/or security personnel.

In addition to sex offender screening, some visitor management software includes a watch list feature that allows the school to flag known individuals or organizations that they do not want entering the building. Results are displayed in just two seconds when a match occurs. The implementation of sex offender database screening and other flagging mechanisms reassures staff and parents that proper controls are in place to monitor all visitors and protect everyone on campus.

Another important feature of some systems is the inclusion of parental custodial information so that lobby attendants know the proper parent or caretaker who is, or is not, authorized to pick up children from campus. This also safely facilitates dropping off and picking up of students before and after school. In addition to temporary visitor badges, campuses also can choose to print permanent barcoded ID cards for parents and caretakers, further expediting the student drop-off and pick-up process. Using a barcoded ID card allows the lobby attendant to simply scan the barcode when the guest arrives or leaves, automatically checking them in or out.

Schools can also use their visitor management systems to create student badges. One application is to monitor students who are going on field trips. Mobile visitor management solutions are available that eliminate the need for a full workstation with power and wired network connectivity. These solutions feature handheld devices that, for instance, can be used to check students on and off the bus with a quick barcode scan of their badges. Schools also can use student ID cards to monitor those who are allowed to leave school grounds during school hours, such as high school seniors with lunch privileges.

All Persons Coming Onto Campus Should Be Screened

School safety issues have changed considerably over the past 10 to 20 years, and protecting the campus from unwanted visitors is one of the most important focus areas. No one should be allowed to enter a school campus without first interacting with a staff member to ensure they are authorized to be there and are complying with specific school check-in regulations. No one, other than students and staff, should be inside the school, unescorted, without a valid visitor badge. 

Today’s visitor management systems help ensure that these guidelines are followed by enabling schools to provide secure and professional access for visitors without contributing to a cumbersome or time-consuming check-in process. The best systems actually streamline the visitor management process, while improving security, safety and convenience for students and staff. Most school administrators also believe that, if these systems protect even a single child, they are well worth the money spent on them.

Next Page: 4 Steps to Effectively Using a Visitor Management System

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