Industry Spotlight: School Safety

Visitor Management Systems With Access Control

Industry Spotlight

Incidents such as the Newtown, Conn., tragedy have put a spotlight on school security and led school districts to adopt changes in visitor management processes and systems. Of course, visitors are only one part of the picture. Ensuring school security is difficult when districts sometimes encompass dozens of school buildings that serve thousands of students.

The typical K-12 school may be used for community functions such as a recreation center, an emergency shelter or a polling place. These functions raise additional security considerations that must be continually reviewed and evaluated from the design phase through construction and use.

Effective visitor management processes track who is visiting school sites and why. They impose a universal, mandatory system for creating and managing IDs for students, staff and visitors. These systems automate the entire visitor registration process, from gathering visitor information using a driver’s license or other government ID, to screening the visitor against watch lists and creating a badge that the visitor can wear on campus.

Beyond Badges

According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s primer on school safety, no one should enter a school without the permission of supervising staff or the use of appropriate access control devices. The primer also recommends the use of card access systems as they greatly simplify access control while also eliminating problems associated with staff losing their keys.

The goal of issuing an ID badge to all visitors for on-campus identification is most effectively achieved using visitor management software, rather than a paper-based badge and visitor log that may leave a school district vulnerable to security risks. The latest software solutions also enables schools to analyze visitor trends and patterns, and to quickly flag visitors who either shouldn’t be on campus or need to be handled differently than other campus guests.

A key advantage of visitor management software solutions is that they help schools determine who is still in the building during a fire or other emergency, and whether anyone needs to be found and evacuated. The software also simplifies badging by enabling administrators to create and manage badge templates by category, and to create and manage all of the user accounts for the employees who operate the badging software.

Other benefits include the ability to set up and manage an automated, scheduled employee import process so that the visitor list is always updated. Additionally, each badging station’s setting and options can be managed from the central administrator console.

Implementing the System

Visitor management systems can be deployed on a PC at the lobby reception desk or another entry point. They are easy to use, and all necessary training can be completed in no more than an hour.

One implementation option is to use the visitor management system to issue a warning alert to the lobby attendant so that, within seconds, he or she knows if a registered sex offender is trying to check in. An automatic e-mail alert can be sent to school administrators and/or security personnel, if desired.

Besides flagging sex offenders, the visitor management system can also flag any individual or organization that the school has predetermined should not be granted access. The combination of sex offender database screening and other flagging mechanisms simplifies the job of ensuring that proper controls are in place to monitor all visitors and protect everyone who is on the campus.

Districts can also use visitor management systems to help ensure only authorized parental custodians are dropping off and picking up children from campus. The school can optionally print and issue permanent barcoded ID cards for parents and caretakers, rather than temporary visitor badges, simplifying guest sign-in and check-out while streamlining the student drop-off and pick-up process.

An important way to optimize visitor-management solution deployments is to integrate it with the school district’s access-control system. This ensures that both systems operate in concert with each other so that school lobby attendants can easily and safely provide temporary proximity credentials to guests through the visitor management system, rather than the access control system.

Integration Advantages

When visitor management is integrated with a school’s access control system, all information entered into the visitor management system during check-in is seamlessly passed to the access control system. Lobby attendants don’t have to be familiar with the access system in order to provide temporary card privileges to visitors.

The process is simple: A proximity or contactless smart card for the visitor is activated in the access system using the information entered into the visitor software. Upon the visitor’s departure, he or she is checked out by the visitor lobby system and the associated card is automatically deactivated.

If visitors accidentally take their cards with them, the facility will still be secure since the visitor software passes the expiration date and time to the access system. After the specified date and time, the access card will no longer be valid and won’t open anything.

Integrating visitor management with access control also eliminates the need to maintain a supply of live cards at the reception desk for those who forget their ID badge. And since the visitor system has a record of all visitors who have been provided an access card, there is always a complete audit trail including information about the dates and times when cards were active.

With an integrated system, for instance, Dayton Public Schools streamlined its check-in processes for tardy students while improving attendance. To solve the problem, the district instituted a universal, mandatory student ID system that would allow them to improve classroom attendance across the district while enhancing campus security.

The district deployed an automated student-management system and desktop card printers with associated software for producing customized, multipurpose student ID cards. The system enables campus officials at each school location to instantly issue ID cards to all students. It was implemented over a two-week period just prior to the start of a new academic year, and enabled Dayton Public Schools to quickly and easily provide all students with IDs during the first week of the new semester. Now, a new enrollee or a student that loses a badge can be issued a new one the same day.

Some schools use ID cards for additional purposes such as enabling students to check out books at the media center or purchase lunches in the cafeteria. Elementary schools are also exploring the use of ID cards to encourage positive reinforcement of good behaviors, and for fund-raising initiatives. For instance, the cards can be used to monitor purchases at participating stores and restaurants that donate a portion of proceeds to the school. Additionally, cards could be used to monitor attendance on field trips and for access control at school sporting and entertainment events.

Key Criteria

As school districts become more reliant on their ID cards, it makes sense to be able to produce cards on demand, in high volumes, at school sites. Today’s leading printers, card materials and software work together to deliver fast and efficient instant-issuance capabilities. They also optimize card security by incorporating visual and logical technologies for multi-layered validation.

Printer choices range in quality, reliability and ease of use. High-definition printing technology can create contactless or contact smart cards. Optimizing performance and productivity are key requirements. Consider also:

Card volume and print speed: Many schools need as high a volume as 15,000 ID cards, or more, in just the first week of school.

Economy and amount of training needed: The equipment selected must be easy to set up and use, and not require large capital investments or extensive training.

Future-proofing: Equipment should be field-upgradeable so that, as the student ID system changes and evolves, the district can modify printers to fit new requirements.

Flexibility: It should be easy to design card templates, enter student data and create photo ID badges, and to synchronize student ID badge data with information in the district’s attendance and school records systems.

 Today’s ID card systems make it significantly easier to increase security for students, staff and parents throughout a district’s campuses. The integration of visitor management software further improves security and user convenience by ensuring that all guests are authorized to be on campus and are officially checked in. With the latest visitor management solutions, schools also benefit from valuable analysis, reporting and flagging and alerting capabilities.

Brett St Pierre is director of business development, education, solutions, at HID Global in Austin, Texas. E-mail: Twitter: @HIDGlobal