Visitor Management Systems

Note: In the spirit of Doug Johnson's "Blast from the Past" series, I'm reviving my "OldybutGoody" series.


5 Selection Criteria for Visitor Management Systems

Copyright 2008 Miguel Guhlin

VMS Survey Data - http://tinyurl.com/vmssurvey

Introduction

“How do we know that sex offenders aren’t walking the halls of my child’s school?” This fundamental question is at the heart of visitor management systems (VMSs). In spite of privacy issues—that information regarding visitors is archived and searchable—VMSs are finding their way into public schools today. As we become increasingly aware of sex offenders in our midst, it’s more critical than ever that the VMSs chosen for use in schools provide comprehensive coverage.
Leander Independent School District has even made its visitor management system a key component of its crisis management system. They share the following:
  • Leander ISD implemented a new tool designed to increase the safety of students at all its elementary campuses. The Raptor V-Soft visitor management system will help keep campuses safer by producing uniform badges for all visitors.

  • Each visitor will be asked to present a valid photo I.D. card the first time he or she visits the school. (Examples of acceptable photo I.D. cards are: state issued driver’s licenses or identification cards, official identification cards from many countries, or military identification cards.) The visitor is issued a badge with their photo that indicates when and where they are visiting.
  • Once in the system, parents/visitors will not need to present their I.D., and can be issued a visitor badge by simply providing his or her name. In a time where we are used to presenting our driver’s licenses to write checks or rent videos, we’re certain our visitors will understand that a few extra seconds is well worth the added safety our new system provides our students.
  • Source: Leander ISD, Texas - http://tinyurl.com/5dfboe

But even if you have a plan for using a visitor management system, like Leander ISD, what constitutes “comprehensive coverage?” Comprehensive coverage involves managing access, interfacing with state sex offender databases, notification of law enforcement in case of an alert, hardware in place, and more. This article shares 5 criteria you can use in selecting a visitor management system.

Criteria #1 - Does the VMS meet your state’s legal requirements?

It’s important to check what legal requirements—if any—are in place in your state or area. If legal requirements are in place, what are those requirements? Fortunately, the vendors checked in this section each made some consideration for potential requirements.
Another consideration is what information is actually collected by the VMS installed in your school. Information should include, at minimum, the visitor’s name, why they are there or job affiliation, a photograph, date, time and length of visit. Some systems actually scan the visitor’s driver’s license and use that as their source for a photo and other information.

Criteria #2 - How does the VMS notify you when it detects a sex offender?

Not only is it important to be able to scan for sex offenders in multiple databases—that is, scan for offenders from different state databases—but also what happens when an offender is found. Some vendors provide multiple alerts, including custody orders, restraining orders, and banned individuals. These alerts can sometimes be sent via an instant/text message to your mobile phone depending on which mobile provider there is. At best, the system needs to notify both law enforcement and the front desk of a school. Does finding an offender result in automatic notification to law enforcement? What procedures does the vendor recommend for the campus staff to take in the event a sexual offender is found?

Criteria #3 - Will the VMS required equipment work with your District’s systems?

Several vendors use a variety of optical scanners, printers, and provide telephone and on-site support. Will these technological tools work and be easy to maintain? Also, cost of these items needs to be considered, especially during a district-wide deployment. One of the questions you need to ask yourself is, “Can my district purchase the scanners from a third-party at lower cost or is the equipment proprietary and specific to the company the District is purchasing the service from?” Will buying equipment from one company result in “vendor lock-in”and keep you from moving your current VMS provider to a better one in the future? Considering that optical scanners can run $350 or better, is this a sufficiently high enough cost that your distict should consider going “generic” on?

Criteria #4 - How much support is needed to keep your VMS working?

Some visitor management systems require constant attention. You may need to monitor their use. Others are completely standalone and the VMS vendor provides service to the equipment. Of course, there is a cost difference. It should be considered that even if you dedicate a paraprofessional staff member to support the VMS, you are still dedicating a staff member that could be doing something else—working in the office, lunchroom duty, working one on one with a child. As such, you will need to ask yourself whether that cost should not just be built-into the contract cost of the VMS.

Criteria #5 - How is data in your VMS protected?

As mentioned in the introduction, protecting the privacy of your visitors—considering that the majority will NOT be wanted criminals, sex offenders or undesirables—information is important. Unauthorized access to a computer or kiosk that typically comes with a visitor management system could result in damaging consequences. Since most VMSs store visitor information on their hard drives, that data needs to be protected. The VMS you choose should encrypted, password protected systems.

Conclusion

Moving from paper and pencil, staff member managed visitor check-in system to a visitor management system can be expensive, challenging, but more importantly, a critical step in protecting children and staff. Combined with parent/employee notification systems, the help of technology-assisted law enforcement, your school’s security can be improved. Be sure to consider the criteria listed in this article as you work to select a visitor management system (VMS).

Vendors





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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure

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