Safety & Security (Prepare and Be Aware)

All Visitors Must Sign In

Checking School Visitors

PHOTO COURTESY OF RAPTURE TECHNOLOGIES

When developing security measures for school buildings, facility planners and administrators work hard to avoid visual references to correctional facilities. Any perception that they have gone too far with fencing, metal detectors or surveillance cameras typically generates an automatic response of, “we cannot operate our schools like prisons!” The learning environment we create for teachers and children is simply not the same as the space necessary for locking up criminals. Still, if the comparison sets an obvious boundary for the design and operation of school facilities, it does remind us that at least in prisons it is possible to have absolute control over individuals entering or exiting the building.

Keeping our schools safe would be much simpler if we allowed only the children and the people who work there to have access to the campus and the buildings. This is not the case. During the course of any school day, a variety of people have legitimate reasons to come inside, and many are there to interact with students. Parents are delivering forgotten items. Volunteers from the broader community are participating in the instructional program. Vendors are making sales calls or providing contracted services. Maintenance technicians, consultants and contractors are routinely in the school to perform work related to the buildings and grounds. Keeping up with exactly who is coming and going at times seems almost impossible. If an incident occurs in a school that is the result of someone with ill intent gaining access, the immediate question is “why were they allowed to enter the building?”

Checking School Visitors

PHOTO COURTESY OF RAPTURE TECHNOLOGIES

ID please. Most schools have a number of visitors every day for many different reasons. The first step in ensuring a secure facility is to make sure that visitors can only enter the buildings through entrances that are monitored. In order to protect the students and the staff from harm or disruptions, administration and security personnel need to know who is coming and going at all times. There are a number of visitor management systems currently being used that not only verify identification, but also run background checks of visitors.

Identification

At a minimum, most schools have signs posted around campus requiring visitors to report to the office prior to entering the school and sign-in. Technology has stepped in with kiosk style sign-in stations requiring visitors to enter information on a computer, which prints a photo ID badge to be worn while on campus. School staff are instructed to notify the office of any visitors or strangers on campus not displaying the proper credentials.

Innovations with automated visitor management systems now include scanning a driver’s license or government issued ID as part of the sign in process. The system quickly compares data from the ID against registered sex offender databases in 50 states. Jim Vesterman, CEO of Rapture Technologies states, “on average we flag 35 registered sex offenders a day, from our current client base of 17,000 schools across the country.” Some systems also allow the screening process to compare the visitor’s ID to a custom database indicating child custody restrictions, barred parents, known gang members, etc. Whether the district chooses a visitor management system that performs one or both of the database screening processes, it all occurs in a matter of seconds.

Access Control

School buildings are compelled to provide an abundance of exterior entrances to in order to meet fire code requirements for egress. During the school day it becomes a challenge to ensure doors are not left open or unlocked to prevent unauthorized entry. Attempting to keep all exterior doors secure during the day in older schools with traditional key systems can be difficult to manage. Alternative locking systems such as card access or automated access offer a tremendous advantage, particularly insuring that only authorized staff members are provided entry access. A primary benefit of automated access is that an audit trail is established detailing exactly who opened which door along with the exact time it was opened.

Concerning interior doors, there is an argument to be made for classroom doors always being locked, particularly when the room is occupied by students. Schools equipped with automated access systems have an advantage in being able to remotely monitor where doors are not properly secured. Following the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting there were a variety of products introduced for providing additional security on interior doors during lock-down. In most cases these solutions were found to be unsuitable due to fire codes and potentially preventing authorized access in emergencies.

Checking School Visitors

PHOTO COURTESY OF RAPTURE TECHNOLOGIES

Security vestibules are a relatively new design element for school facilities. Once the final bell rings each morning, entrance doors from the vestibule into the main building are locked and visitors may only enter the school through the main office for the remainder of the day. Entrances for older, existing facilities can be retrofitted with security vestibules. In some cases, schools have been equipped with a CCTV camera at the front door and a “buzz-in” latch operated by main office staff. This arrangement is less effective because it allows access into the building before the identity of the visitor has been verified.

Surveillance

A key to identifying unauthorized individuals on school campuses is training all staff members to question visitors that are not displaying proper identification issued from the main office. If the visitor is acting suspiciously or raises any level of concern, the staff member should take steps to notify appropriate administrative staff or security personnel. For a variety of reasons this does not always occur. It is not uncommon for those that frequently visit schools in the course of their work, to enter any open door at a school and wander about freely without anyone questioning their presence. Sometimes the staff becomes complacent. They assume a well-dressed adult who appears to know where they are and what they are doing is not likely to pose a threat. With a properly designed visitor management program in place, anyone walking through a school without visible evidence of authorization from the main office should be questioned. If for any reason there is a perceived threat, it may be necessary to avoid confrontation and quickly take steps to notify others.

Communications

There are a number of technologybased solutions to enhance emergency communications inside the building as well as on the school grounds. Staff members can make use of well-placed phones, intercom stations, cell phones or handheld two-way radios. Several of the voice enhancement systems currently utilized in the classroom involve a pendant the teacher wears throughout the day. The teacher can press a button on the pendant that activates a built-in microphone, discretely notifying appropriate personnel for assistance. Additionally, school districts have made a significant investment in surveillance cameras most of which can be accessed districtwide. If an unauthorized visitor has been reported, the cameras may prove useful, although the greatest benefit has been found after an event to provide visual evidence of the event.

The safety and wellbeing of children in our schools is the highest priority for school administrators, parents and the community. It is everybody’s responsibility. All the technology that money can buy is no substitute for principals, teachers, custodians, cafeteria staff and bus drivers being constantly observant. We cannot allow visitors to come on campus or enter school buildings during the school day without authorization. It is often said that if someone with harmful intentions wants to enter a school, they will find a way. We should not make it easy for them.

This article originally appeared in the April 2017 issue of School Planning & Management.

Share this Page


Subscribe to SP&M E-News

School Planning & Management's free email newsletter keeping you up-to-date and informed.

I agree to this sites Privacy Policy.