From our perspective, the most important goal or element in effective school safety protocols is knowing exactly who is on campus at any given time. It’s why many schools utilize some form of a Visitor Management System, or VMS. There are quite a few good reasons for a school to have a VMS that fits their needs, but the core purpose never drifts very far from that initial goal - because when we know who is on our grounds, it becomes much easier to keep our entire community safe.
Today, let’s break down some of the key questions schools should consider on the topic, like:
Who should be allowed on campus?
Okay, it’s an easy one to start. Only individuals with a legitimate, provable purpose to be on campus should be allowed on campus. Students, staff, guardians, and vendors are the most common. When in doubt, double check! There’s nothing wrong with asking a visitor who they are here to see, and verifying their words with someone on campus before checking them into a VMS.
What is our procedure for checking visitors in and out?
Obviously, just about every school community does some sort of screening of visitors who arrive on campus. If your school uses a manual VMS, this likely takes the form of a sign-in binder/spreadsheet that records time in, time out, name of guest, and the purpose of the visit.
In the context of an electronic visitor management system, there is likely a background check process that utilizes a visitor’s driver’s license and then prints a badge for them containing that same pertinent information. If an individual doesn’t have photo identification (or another stumbling block appears), the office manager or receptionist can make an informed decision regarding whether to grant access. When in doubt, take the time and find someone who can verify a visitor’s purpose for being there.
Whether your school’s VMS is manual or electronic, the key point here is to ensure that whatever our community’s check-in and out process is, it is followed for each and every visitor on campus. Consistency is always an important part of safety!
What information do we need to authorize guests?
As we just touched on, one of the most valuable resources to complement any VMS is the staff member who supports its use. They will know repeat vendors, be able to put names to parent faces, and have the best understanding of what a normal flow of traffic looks like in your school community.
Having someone like that in this role should keep things moving quickly. Regardless, every visitor to campus should give the following information on each visit: name (and ID proof), date and time of arrival/departure, destination on campus, and purpose of the visit. If any of this information is missing or not divulged, school employees should think carefully before granting access to campus.
How do we track visitors?
Many school communities have visitors affix a name badge while on campus. This may be printed directly from an electronic VMS, or simply filled out manually. Others may use a lanyard, or some other marker that signifies a guest has checked in through the appropriate channels.
More important than any specific solution? Empowering your community to speak up when they see someone without a badge or lanyard. If a school sets the expectation that every visitor on campus will be wearing something, faculty and staff will feel confident when (politely!) inquiring as to why someone on campus doesn’t have that thing with them.
When it comes to longer-term visitor tracking, an electronic VMS has some notable advantages. The bank of visitor data that it stores is always accessible if needed, and it also allows us to identify patterns in that data. Perhaps there are one or two times per month where the flow of traffic picks up dramatically, and we need auxiliary support in the main office to ensure that safety procedures are followed.
How do we deal with unauthorized individuals who seek access to campus?
This is a critical safety question. If our community determines that someone should not be granted access to campus (maybe they don’t have a photo ID), the situation becomes tenuous. Ideally, a staff member in the main office can explain why campus security requirements are in place. If the situation does not appear to be resolving, utilize on-campus security, if applicable. Otherwise an administrator and potentially local law enforcement may need to get involved.
Schools with multiple points of entry or without a security team may need to seek other strategies. One alternative is access control. If feasible, schools may be able to utilize a communication system or holding room, where guests speak with the main office and state their purpose before being granted access to the full campus.
Ultimately, what are the signs of a good visitor management system?
- Our VMS is set up at every place individuals can access campus, or all individuals are directed clearly to the main office.
- The entire school community is clear on the visitor management protocols, including what marker signifies that a visitor has been cleared by the main office.
- Every visitor to campus, even ones we easily recognize, is being processed through the VMS.
- If we have an electronic VMS, we also have a backup/manual option that can be used if the system is not working.
- Someone is tasked with monitoring/maintaining visitor data, as well as with ensuring continued operation of VMS.
What are common challenges when it comes to VMS?
As with all technology, there is always the seeming chance that a VMS will decide to be fickle and slow our visitor management process down. Be cognizant of potential bottlenecks, and prepared to move to a manual system if, for example, a VMS badge printer won’t work.
Because the process can feel tedious, parents or repeat vendors may try to bypass the VMS system. It can be frustrating having to tell these people repeatedly, but in the case of an emergency, our VMS data may be essential in determining whether individuals are unaccounted for.
There are a few other potential stumbling blocks as well, but this post is already far too long! If you would like to discuss how a VMS might integrate in your school, and get good advice from subject-matter experts, reach out to us at “firstname.lastname@example.org”