They Are Only Human

They Are Only Human

Overcoming the inherent weakness of supervision at entrances

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 sports venues.

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.


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.


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 last visitor.

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 smile.

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 further addressed.

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 such occurrences.


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 daily basis.

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 done?

This article originally appeared in the October 2018 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.

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