This article first appeared in Campus Security & Life Safety on August 1, 2021 - Children are a society’s most precious asset, from them comes a future head-of-state, captain of industry, or the inventor of the next revolutionary technology. These great ambitions start in the classroom with dedicated teachers who not only teach the basics but instill a sense of responsibility and personal value in each child. For teachers to carry out their mission, a safe and secure space is of paramount importance. Many K-12 schools have installed surveillance systems, consisting of cameras with analytics and other sensors. While surveillance cameras provide a level of deterrence, these solutions cannot tell you who is in the facility or where they are at any given time. The missing piece of the puzzle is a Visitor Management System.
Administrators have a critical need to know the identity of each person on campus, which is best done with a VMS that makes it easy to quickly flag visitors who either should not be on campus or need to be handled differently than other campus guests.
Today, a visitor management system is no longer an extra security feature; it is an integral part of a tailored K-12 security plan that keeps students, teachers, administrators, staff, and visitors safe. Plus, managing school entrances and lobbies is more challenging than ever, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now along with ensuring a secure campus, administrators are asking front-desk personnel to screen school personnel and visitors for COVID-19 symptoms, a task that takes time and could lead to further spread.
Enhance Campus Security
Adding a visitor management system helps schools enhance campus security while simultaneously improving convenience by integrating software with the school’s access control system. With the correct visitor monitoring and management solution in place, schools can ensure that all campus visitors are authorized to be there, and have been officially checked in. At the same time, schools can build an historical visitor database that enables valuable analytics along with the ability to create reports, flag people who are not allowed on campus, and alert campus administrators and other stakeholders when there is a visitor issue.
In addition to knowing who is in the school, a VMS offers additional functionality that further helps protect students. A VMS can officially manage student restrictions via an automated import from a student management system or internal watch list to ensure the student goes home with an authorized guardian. A VMS can also help to standardize policies and procedures throughout a school district and ensure that information is shared throughout each school. Let’s take a closer look at how a visitor management system improves the safety of everyone in a school and lets students concentrate on learning and growing.
Know Who Wants Access
Controlling who can access a school building is the first step to ensuring the safety and security of students and teachers. Relying on paper forms and logs exposes school districts to dangerous vulnerabilities. While this method of keeping track of visitors is perceived as quick and easy, it provides little security and presents a number of problems, including illegible or false names, unprotected personal data and difficulty enforcing check-out times.
A VMS replaces the paper and the hassle, and with a quick scan of a driver license, schools get the complete picture of the visitor. This method not only ensures data accuracy but data validity, so schools can be assured that they know exactly who is requesting entrance. A VMS also leverages the scanned data to instantly check the visitor’s name against internal watch lists that may contain information about restraining orders, parental rights issues and fired employees.
In addition, with a push of a button or an auto-trigger, a VMS provides real-time, online screening of the Sex Offender Registries of all 50 states. In this implementation, the VMS can issue a warning or an alert to an attendant so that, within seconds, he or she knows if a registered sex offender is trying to check in. Additionally, the system can send an automatic email alert to other school administrators and to security staff or the police.
Know Where they Are
It is easy to see how a VMS streamlines a school’s visitor check-in process while offering an increased level of security. Once the vetting process is complete, a VMS offers several options for printing badges, from simple nametags (if the visitor will be chaperoned during the entire visit) to temporary identification cards that allow a visitor to access specific parts of the school. The badging process not only identifies the visitor but helps track their whereabouts inside the school and keeps a record of who is actively in the building in case of a lockdown or an emergency evacuation. Streamline visitor check-in and badging by pulling information from past visits, importing visitor lists, and pre-printing badges for events.
A particularly valuable VMS feature is the ability to integrate with the school district’s access control system, so that all information entered into the visitor management system during check-in is seamlessly passed to the access control system.
With this approach, an access card for the visitor is activated in the access system using the information entered into the VMS. Upon the visitor’s departure, he or she is checked out by the visitor lobby system and the associated card is automatically deactivated. Most systems support seamless integration with leading access control systems to assign temporary access credentials during sign-in to limit access to specific areas. For example, a badge issued to maintenance personnel will allow access to specific areas of the school that are off limits to a badge issued to a delivery driver or to a parent.
Keep Track of Students Too
The benefits of implementing a VMS go beyond vetting visitors and providing appropriate credentials. A VMS that links to a student management system or an internal watch list can officially manage student restrictions, such as restraining orders and non-custodial parent issues, and manage tardy students and early dismissal requests.
In addition, schools with a visitor management system can ensure that only authorized parental custodians are dropping off and picking up children from campus. This is done by optionally printing and issuing permanent barcoded ID cards for parents and caretakers — rather than temporary visitor badges — simplifying guest sign-in and checkout while streamlining the student drop-off and pick-up process.
Know Before They Get There
A new trend in visitor management is remote pre-registration and pre-screening prior to a visitor leaving their house. The COVID-19 pandemic ushered in the increased use of Web-based registration forms that are completed off-site and submitted to school staff for vetting and approvals. One major advantage is the ability to process a visitor without contact.
Many visitor management systems integrate barcode or QR code scanners so an attendant can simply scan the e-visit pass (either printed or displayed on a mobile device) from a distance to capture all visitor registration information and instantly print a visitor badge. This function takes the burden off of staff to gather information onsite makes the entire process easier and more efficient.
VMS have evolved with the need to keep people safe and healthy by offering new capabilities for pre-entry health screenings, temperature screening, and automated credentialing and admittance. A VMS with built-in pre-entry health screenings are designed to easily administer an electronic daily COVID-19 survey as required by many state health departments based on guidance from the CDC.
This functionality lets people register and answer health-related questions before they reach the front door, taking the burden off of attendant, allowing for minimal contact, and expediting the admittance process.
In addition to facilitating entry rules and regulations, most visitor management systems provide customizable reporting options that deliver timely information on compliance data used to satisfy liability and risk management policies.
Albert Einstein said “It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge” in their students. Teachers and students need to feel safe and secure in their classroom to awaken the joy of learning.
By adding a visitor management system, schools foster this safety by enhancing school security while simultaneously streamlining the visitor registration process. With the correct VMS in place, schools can ensure that all visitors are authorized to be there, and have been officially checked in. At the same time, schools can build a historical visitor database that enables valuable analytics along with the ability to create reports, flag people who are not allowed on campus, and alert campus administrators and other stakeholders when there is a visitor issue.