They Are Only Human
Overcoming the inherent weakness of supervision at entrances
- By Tracie Thomas
- October 01, 2018
For reasons both good and bad, we are living with a heightened
security awareness that has changed how educational
organizations equip and operate their campuses. Secured
entrances are now the norm at most campus facilities,
from dormitories and libraries to academic buildings and
Many campuses employ students to serve as supervisors and reception
staff at primary entrances, while actual campus security staff or
police rove the campus, a phone call and a few minutes away. These
students may be stationed around-the-clock, and in other locations,
they may be used only during peak expected traffic hours. Frequently,
student staff are given additional responsibilities—not only are they
expected to check credentials and monitor people entering and exiting,
but also keep watch on nearby activities in their area, register visitors,
maintain logbooks, and sometimes perform other tasks.
The upside of student supervision is unmistakable—for example,
they deter and deal with casual intrusion attempts, can answer a wide
range of questions, provide knowledgeable direction and make visitors
feel welcome. They should also be trained on how to respond sensitively
to unauthorized entry attempts. However, even with training, all
staff sitting behind the desk at entrances have one critical vulnerability—
they are human.
THE CHALLENGES OF SUPERVISORY STAFF AT THE ENTRY
Employees stationed at the entry can leave their facility open to both
unknown risks and inability to manage those risks. Here are some of
the challenges they present and then later we’ll talk about strategies for
overcoming these challenges.
Attendance. To have any effect at all, the first thing the staff must do
is arrive on post. People are sometimes late for work, either by their
own actions or because of transit disruptions. Sometimes they get sick,
or want to take time off and have someone else cover for them. Managers
must find ways to accommodate for such situations, and make
adjustments as they always have.
Attention. People can be very focused, and pay close attention at
times when they need to. However, when it comes to maintaining alertness
or attention for extended periods, most people cannot manage this
level of focus at an ideal 100 percent of the time. Perhaps the most difficult
situations are the long “dead” times. In order to stay awake, student
staff will often attempt to entertain themselves with phone calls,
texting, homework, reading, or other activities that can distract them
from their monitoring tasks. In the worst cases, even these fail and they
can fall asleep, rendering them completely ineffective.
Moreover, even when students working as entry guards are very alert
and focused, they can still be overwhelmed during busy traffic periods when many people are passing in a short time,
or when traffic is passing in both inward and
outward directions simultaneously.
Alarm Fatigue. People have a natural ability
to adjust to situations and to stimuli. This
natural coping mechanism can cause problems
when false alarms are triggered repeatedly,
causing staff to eventually tune them
out. This is similar to the old “boy crying
wolf ” story, and we have all seen this effect at
retail stores when anti-theft alarms incessantly
go off at the exit doors.
Social Engineering. Humans are social
animals, and people can be fooled into thinking
that someone is authorized simply
because they look the part. Security penetration
testers regularly (and successfully) use
social engineering tactics to gain entry into
secure facilities—if someone is dressed like a
workman, and walks confidently while carrying
a coil of cable and a ladder, or a badge that
looks official, staff will often simply let them
pass through. Also, intruders can watch the
staff to see when they get involved in a conversation
or phone call, then use that opportunity
to slip past without being seen.
OVERCOMING HUMAN WEAKNESSES
With the natural shortfalls of humans working
against their effectiveness, what can be done?
The answer is to cover these shortfalls by
deploying security turnstiles to work in conjunction
with your human security staff to
deter, and in some cases, detect tailgating
attempts or unauthorized entry. In recent
years, especially due to the events of late, we’ve
seen demand for turnstiles grow in higher
education because of increased awareness for
protecting students, teachers and assets.
There are different types of turnstiles, and
we’ve seen all types used on the same campus
depending on the application. For example,
you’ll find tripod turnstiles and full height
turnstiles in and around stadiums, parking
areas, campus perimeters, cafeterias, and residence
halls like those at Hofstra University.
You’ll find sleeker and more expensive optical
turnstiles, in residence halls like Liberty University’s
Lahaye Center, as well as libraries.
When integrated with an access control system,
turnstiles provide three different levels of
protection against unauthorized entry, ranging
from Crowd Control to Deterrence to
Detection, and their different attributes can
actually increase the inherent strengths of
your staff (more on that later). Finally, security
turnstiles eliminate the human weaknesses
we described above.
Attendance. Security turnstiles can work
24/7 without breaks, sick days, or vacations.
They do require periodic maintenance, which
can be scheduled to minimize any disruptions.
Attention. Turnstiles provide a constant
level of attention no matter what distractions
are nearby, or how long it has been since the
Alarm Fatigue. Optical turnstiles do issue
an alarm when someone tailgates, which is
intended to alert the staff to confront the
offender immediately. Sensitivity and sensor
types can be tailored to the actual conditions
of the installation, minimizing false alarms
that can mislead their human coworkers. It’s
important that alarms are never turned off.
Social Engineering. Security entrances are
immune to social engineering, treating every
user presentation with the same level of scrutiny.
They cannot be distracted, nor can they
be fooled by clothing, a clipboard, or a confident
There are other benefits: once turnstiles are
installed, they enable easy and accurate
recording of who has entered or exited via
integration with the access control system. No
more clipboards and manual sign-in sheets.
In addition, they accurately count people, or
in the case of optical turnstiles, you can count
tailgating alarms, gaining insight into
“hotspots” of infiltration activity that can be
What happens to the student staff? They
get to be good at being human. They don’t
have to work so hard at watching the entry
and can easily handle more complex interactions,
such as answering questions, registering
and directing visitors, and handling certain
types of complexities or exceptions. They
are also potentially available to perform other
security-related functions like analysis of data
or trends, training other staff members on
security culture—and checking the security
entrances for proper operation.
In the end, the most important role of campus
entrance staff is that of mounting a
response to a violation and calling campus
security if things get serious. It probably isn’t
easy for a young student to challenge other
students or visitors who try to break the rules
and rush inside—the good news is that security
turnstiles act as a deterrent to minimize
THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS
It is impossible to calculate the chances that a
determined intruder will be able to get past
your staff and gain access inside a building on
campus—but we do know from the news that
sadly, this kind of incursion happens on a
You can leverage turnstiles and access control
technology to change the game. By
implementing a physical security plan that
balances technology, education, and staffing,
savvy campus security managers gain the
advantages of their human guards as well as
the advantages of modern entry technologies—
the best of both worlds.
Besides, don’t these
working students deserve
to get some homework
This article originally appeared in the October 2018 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.