Managing School Visitors

Sept. 13, 2017
Stressing the benefits of an integrated system to K-12 customers may be the inside track to making a sale

In today’s post Sandy Hook era, nearly every K-12 school district in the United States has an electronic access control system protecting its buildings. Faculty carry proximity cards or fobs, and most doors are equipped with card readers. Some schools also require cards for students. Administrations and schools boards have united in allocating funds for technology that is considered indispensible for protecting our children.

However, for all the investment put into tracking and managing school access to employees, many schools are far less vigilant in monitoring and managing the access provided to visitors. Many school visitors still simply sign in on a clipboard and are handed a paper badge. At my own kids’ school, as a visitor, my photo ID is scanned into a system, but then I am handed a paper badge. Once I’m in, there is no electronic tracking of where I go, or if I leave.

As a security professional, I can’t help but find it a bit ironic that so many schools are keeping careful track of “their own” – but “the outsiders” who enter the building are under far less scrutiny, and they are equally capable of posing a security risk.

Perception vs. Reality

Why do schools consider access control systems a non-negotiable necessity, but not visitor management systems? One reason may be the perception that it is much harder to operate a visitor management system in a K-12 setting.

Typically, when a systems integrator installs an access control system, the integration team handles set up and populates the database with an initial list of credentialed card holders. The system is then turned over to an administrator for management and maintenance. Very few others within the school need to understand how to use the system in any capacity.

By contrast, a visitor management system must be operated, day-to-day, by personnel located at the front door – oftentimes a security guard, receptionist or clerk. While a school administrator, probably within the IT department, will still be responsible for establishing visitor credential settings, reviewing logs and running reports, he or she will not be the one generating visitor badges and interfacing with the public. The clerk or guard doing so must be comfortable and efficient using the technology, as must all of the individuals who serve as back-up when the primary user is on break, sick or otherwise not on the job.

Some schools may feel that this training and supervision of system users requires more effort than it is worth. They are also probably not aware of the full benefits they are missing out on, especially when the visitor management system is integrated with access control, both in areas of security and operational efficiencies.

In fact, explaining the value of an integrated access control and visitor management solution to K-12 users, as well as what the integration process involves is vitally important to systems integrators serving this vertical market.

How Does It Work?

When a visitor management system is integrated with access control, school visitors are provided with a temporary credentialed badge that allows them access only to areas where they should be allowed to go. It is also capable of reporting where specific visitors actually do go, as far as the school’s access control system allows for tracking.

In effect, the visitor has been entered into the access control database and can be monitored just like any employee within the system.

To generate the credentialed badge, visitors provide photo ID, which is scanned into the system. Some visitor management systems use the image right from the photo ID; others require the clerk to take a quick digital photo of the visitor. When a badge is generated, it provides access to approved areas for a set amount of time, and then expires. Upon exiting the school, visitors scan their badge, letting the system know that are no longer on the premises. If they take the badge with them, it will not work after the expiration.

Some visitor management systems have integrated SMS capabilities, enabling faculty to be notified via text when their visitor has arrived, or can alert security if a visitor has not been logged as exiting the building within the time they have been allotted.

System administrators are responsible for defining the access level provided to visitors and length of time for which access is granted.

In some instances, when an ID is scanned into the system, schools may choose to check that the visitor is not on a “black list,” such as on the sex offender registry, or a parent with limited visitation rights, or someone subject to a restraining order.

Setting It Up

From an integrator’s perspective, the key to making this as simple as possible is to choose a visitor management solution that offers a pre-built integration to the access control system that is either already in place, or will be installed.

Most manufacturers offer these pre-built visitor management “plug ins” to a host of different access platforms. Choose one of these combinations, and the programming should be minimal and straightforward.

In many cases, schools will look to security service providers or systems integrators to take the lead in helping their IT department and administrators define their needs, and then they will set up and program the system to perform as desired. Once installed, responsibility for the system must be assigned to a staff member who understands programming and has the authority to manage the visitor management and access control software.

The Security Benefits

Once visitor names and photos are captured within a searchable database, there are many ways in which security is enhanced. Integrators should be stressing these benefits of an integrated solution to their K-12 customers; and, with the right education from integrators, administrators will be better prepared to lobby for budgets that will pay for them.

Here are benefits to share with customers:

Wandering Visitors: Let’s say a visitor has finished doing what they came to do – like visiting their child’s classroom. Instead of heading directly to the exit, they decide to stroll the hallways unsupervised. While not ideal, if the visitor has been provided with a credentialed badge, he or she will not be able to access any restricted areas of the school that their badge does not allow, such as locker rooms, storage areas, the cafeteria, etc. And, if they do try to enter anywhere they should not, security will be immediately notified – with both the visitor’s information and their location in the school.

School Lockdown: In a lockdown, law enforcement and first responders want to know who is in the building, and even better, where they are within the building. If an access control system can be logged into, the same report will include both on-site employees and all current visitors. Furthermore, if law enforcement can access video from security cameras within the locked down building, they can potentially identify visitors from their photos.

Forensic Investigation: Tracking of where a visitor went – and when – can be important in an investigation. Integrated capabilities provide that “where and when” information. In addition, if the access control system is integrated with video surveillance, authorities can also quickly see what the person was doing. Many access systems offer this type of integration, and provide quick links to access events with video. As long as a camera has been associated with a card reader, for each time that reader was swiped, associated video can be called up.

Operational benefits can be another great selling point for systems integrators:

Support for regular visitors: Volunteers who come for weekly activities or service personnel who make regular visits, for example, can be granted a reusable badge that is programmed to be valid for the times they visit the school each week. This eliminates the need for them to be “processed” each time they arrive. They just scan their badge when they enter, and the clerk can confirm their identity from the photo. Once in the school, they can enter the areas they need to be without an escort, as their programmed badge provides access.

Eliminate visitor escorts: With the ability to track the whereabouts of visitors, school administrators do not have to assign escorts, freeing up school personnel to do more important tasks.

No badge collection: Because badges expire, there is no need to collect them when a visitor leaves, and there is no risk of reuse or misuse.

Time tracking: Integration with the access database makes it easy to track hours of volunteer workers. Other analytics can also be provided depending on the specific solutions in place.

Even when not integrated with access control, electronic visitor management delivers many other security and operational efficiencies, including: enhanced confidentiality (no list of previous visitors on display); the ability to easily pre-register visitors for large events; and, as mentioned, the ability to quickly check visitors against a black list. Some solutions also offer a “mobile” module that can be used to keep track of students on field trips, as they board or exit the bus.

Bret McGowan is Senior VP of Sales and Marketing for Vicon Industries Inc. Request more info about the company at