As teachers and school personnel begin preparing students for end-of-year testing and other academic milestones, the last thing they should worry about is a dangerous, unwanted visitor making their way onto campus and being in direct contact with students. Schools can use digital visitor management systems that screen and track all visitors, checking them against sex offender registries and customized databases, including those with custody orders and banned visitors.
Protecting students from external threats
With the number of sex offenders on the rise in the United States, the time to secure the country’s most vulnerable populations is now. Schools that rely on handwritten visitor logs and manual check-in processes face the stark reality that their students’ and staff members’ safety is at risk. Without screening and approving entrants, it can be a challenge to confidently know which visitor should gain access to school buildings.
Some may think, “How could dangerous people get into the school?” Well, the answer is tricky. One example is that a student may be at risk of being put in the middle of a domestic violence situation or a custody battle. Worst case scenario would be the school releasing a student to a non-custodial parent or guardian.
To prevent these situations, school districts need a robust system that integrates with their policies and procedures for campus visitation. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, most schools deploy controlled access to the campus by locking or monitoring entry points during school hours. But, what happens when the dangerous person trying to gain entry is a student’s parent? On paper, they look safe. However, having a visitor management system in place would immediately alert the front office that this parent is not allowed to have any contact with their child. The reality is that many child abductions happen with someone they know and can often include the student’s parent. Therefore, school administrators must have the technology in place to ensure they are always aware of the people signing students in and out.
There’s also the broader issue of a dangerous person making their way on the campus and emergency efforts being deployed. Emergencies produce an added risk for visitors because it can be challenging for officials and first responders to determine who and where visitors are on campus if there is no connection or campus-wide communication system.
K-12 environments may benefit from visitor management strategies and systems. Here are the top visitor security tips to keep in mind.
- Screen every visitor against sex offender registries and custom databases: This screening should happen every time a visitor logs into the system. Suppose a visitor does not have an acceptable form of ID. In that case, the school’s system should allow staff to manually enter the visitor’s information for screening and tracking purposes.
- Confidently confirm a flagged entrant and send alerts: Suppose a sex offender registry match is found during the screening. In that case, security should send instant alerts to a customized list of recipients if it matches, allowing the appropriate personnel to quickly respond and escort the individual out of the building.
- Release students to approved guardians: When considering a security system, a solution that syncs with the school’s existing student information system (SIS) can help pull data directly from the SIS and ensure students are being released to approved individuals.
- Generate district- and school-level reports: Automated systems record and maintain every visitor’s details and make such data instantly accessible to approved school personnel to create accurate district- and school-wide reports.
Securing schools against many visitor types
Now, there are the complexities that come with a “known” frequent visitor. It is not safe to assume that they should have continual building access. Each entrant needs to be screened every time they sign into the school so that school staff and security can confidently know who is walking in their hallways, eating in the cafeteria, or volunteering on campus and in direct contact with students.
Just because the visitor is a family member or close family friend of the student doesn’t mean they are a safe individual for staff and other students on campus. For example, a parent may be a registered sex offender. While they are allowed to interact with their child and leave with them, it’s best to proceed with caution and ensure the individual is escorted to areas they’re granted access to on campus.
A visitor management system gives campus staff a reliable way of keeping track of visitors across their buildings, including those previously denied access. In addition, school administrators can see accurate and reliable visitor details and sign-in history — at the facility and district level — for these individuals and make security decisions accordingly. For example, if a visitor is banned from one establishment and attempts to sign into another building in the district, school staff are instantly notified.
There is also the broader issue of what happens when a dangerous visitor, like an active shooter, makes their way on campus and emergency efforts are deployed. Integrating visitor management strategies with emergency response can help schools respond to and recover from emergencies faster and smarter.
In the wake of COVID-19, schools can also track visitor health, keeping people with the virus out of the school and ultimately reducing the spread. Upon checking in, visitors are asked health screening questions so the school can receive an alert if the visitor reports symptoms of the virus. Additionally, knowing who was on campus and when is critical for schools to conduct contact tracing.
At the end of the day, visitor management strategies serve schools for one main reason — to protect the lives, safety and health of the students and staff that walk their schools’ halls every day. Having the right technology in place can help visitor check-in protocols and immediately notify staff of any issues. School should be a safe place for everyone on campus, and a visitor management system is the first step in ensuring this sense of security is upheld.
This article originally ran in Security, a twice-monthly security-focused eNewsletter for security end users, brought to you by Security Magazine. Subscribe here.