How to Manage Visitors

A step-by-step strategic guide to crafting the perfect plan for your facility


Processing Time. What proportion of visitors can or will be preprocessed by the host? What proportion arrives in ones or twos or as groups (say, for training or presentations)? How long will it take to complete the processing in each of these scenarios? What impact will “exceptions” have on processing time — for example, VIP visitors, or visitors without a valid credential or a host? What impact will there be if a higher security level is implemented due to an increased threat?

Processing Stations. Based on worst-case visitor volume and processing time, how many processing stations are required to ensure that the acceptable wait time is not exceeded? If additional processing is required during a heightened security period, will more staff be required or will longer wait times be acceptable? Is there enough lobby space for processing stations, or should a visitor center be considered? What training will be required for processing and security staff?

Policies. What written policies need to be prepared to aid in the visitor management program? What credentials are considered acceptable and what actions should be taken for exceptions? How is contraband defined, and is there a formal relationship with local law enforcement and approved procedures if dangerous items are found? What areas of the facility can the visitor access based on the credential and the issuance of a badge, and will an escort be required for other areas? What will be the custodial duties of the escort? Who will be authorized to pre-approve a visitor and will they require security training associated with such authority or for escort duties?

Once these myriad of questions are asked — and as many as possible answered — we are able to determine appropriate strategies for the visitor management program. One of the most important drivers is the volume of visitors.

 

How to Process Visitors

A small number of guests can be processed at a single concierge, reception or security desk with a visual inspection of the visitor’s credential, a sign-in book and, perhaps, a hand-written badge. An alternative is to design and implement an unstaffed — or virtual — reception area with audio and/or video communications between the entry vestibule and a remote receptionist or even the host. Such systems can be very unsophisticated — similar to an apartment building intercom system.

There is visitor management software available to automatically read the visitor’s credential (via a business card or driver license scanner), compare it to a pre-authorization list, auto-dial the host for meeting confirmation, and print a visitor badge that could use a bar code to control access to selected areas.

Larger buildings may have several hundreds of visitors per day or even hundreds per hour — the Empire State Building visitor management system, for example, was designed to process more than 600 visitors per hour at peak times. These volumes require a well-conceived strategy, and the criteria discussed above must be well-researched if the correct strategy is to be selected.

In a multi-tenant office building, the minimalist approach for the building manager may be to offload the responsibility to the tenants, and to allow free access as far as the tenants’ front doors.

The tenant can then implement such level of visitor management as he/she may consider appropriate for their particular operation. Where the level of potential threat to the building itself is low and the building manager is not marketing “security” as a feature of the facility, this is a very common strategy.

However, for owner-occupiers and landlords of office buildings in major urban environments, a more proactive strategy may be called for. There are many visitor management systems on the market, most of which will include the features listed below:

 

Pre-approval

Authorized employees can access and complete a visitor pre-approval form on a web server. The system may require authentication from a supervisor before the data is accepted into the system database. The system can e-mail the visitor to let them know that they are pre-approved and that message can contain a bar code that authorizes the use of parking facilities or can be read at a visitor processing desk.

Processing

When the visitor arrives at the facility and presents him/herself at the reception desk/visitor processing station, the visitor is asked to provide a credential to verify their identity. The credential may be as simple as a business card or more rigorous, such as a government-issued driver’s license or passport. It should be noted that a pre-approval letter or e-mail, even with a bar code, does not verify the identity of the visitor.