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End user security focus: Managing school visitors

school security directors are actively managing visitors with secured front door vestibules
The secure inner doors of the vestibule at the front entrance of Park and River Forest High School
Most school visitors have legitimate reasons for coming to school. A frightening few, however, show up with violent or other illegal intentions. Today, school security directors are actively managing visitors with secured front door vestibules and visitor management software.

Oak Park and River Forest High School, a single-school district serving Oak Park and River Forest, Ill., offers an example. Director of Security and Campus Safety Randy Braverman has locked all 17 doors at the 3,300-student school for most of the day.

 In the morning when students arrive three of the doors are open. After the morning rush, all the doors are locked. Faculty and staff have card access privileges for all of the doors.

The front doors offer access to visitors. There, Braverman has installed a multi-door secured vestibule. A set of unlocked doors lead from outside into the vestibule where another set of locked doors prevents unauthorised access to the school proper.

 A security station with a front counter called the Welcome Centre has been built into the right wall. All visitors must register there to gain access to the school.

 If someone approaches the Welcome Centre with the obvious intent of doing harm, a staffer will press a panic button under the counter. “Pressing the button automatically calls the police and activates a public address message to lock down the school,” Braverman says.

 Visitors must submit driver’s licenses at the Welcome Centre. “The staff scans the license using visitor management software,” Braverman says. “The software accesses a sexual predator database. If there’s a hit, I’ll get a text and come down to deal with the individual.”

 If the license passes the scan, welcome centre staff will talk to the visitor and make sure that he or she has a legitimate reason for visiting the school.

A security station with a front counter called the Welcome Center has been built into the right wall
Visitors cannot gain entry to the school without first checking in at the Welcome Center

 “If everything is fine, we provide a visitor’s pass with a lanyard to wear and buzz the individual in,” Braverman says. “We keep the driver’s license so that the visitor has to come back to the welcome centre before leaving.”

 While the rest of the school’s doors are locked from the outside, fire and life safety codes require that all school doors open from the inside. The driver’s license policy helps ensure that a visitor won’t leave through a side door with a student or after committing a crime.

 Just in case, however, teachers exiting through any door must swipe out with access control cards. If a door opens from the inside without a card swipe, a silent alarm goes to Braverman and the school’s security officers, who make sure that a student or visitor hasn’t left through a side door. Usually it is a teacher that has forgotten to swipe out.

Secured front vestibules and locked doors have become a trend in K-12 schools, today, says Paul Timm, president of Lemont, Ill.-based RETA Security, Inc., a security consulting firm specialising in education. “Virtually everyone is moving to a secured vestibule,” he says.

 Visitor management software that can scan a database of registered sex offenders hasn’t yet become a trend. “While more schools are also installing visitor management software,” continues Timm, “it is prohibitively expensive for some districts — especially those with 10, 20 or more buildings.”

 These are now best practices for school security, Braverman says. “Imagine if someone walked in wanting to do damage or hurt people. You must lock the doors and put in a secured vestibule with a welcome area, and no visitors get into the school without checking in.”

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