Digital Visitor Management Systems Keep Schools Safe
- By David Rogers
- February 01, 2022
Antiquated methods for tracking visitors on a school campus can create added risk for staff and students. With one million registered sex offenders in the United States, schools that rely on handwritten visitor logs are putting their students and staff at risk. Unscreened individuals who may not meet district policies for entrance can slip through the cracks created by outdated methods. Additionally, the tricky situation of custody issues presents schools with the scary prospect of releasing a student to a non-custodial parent or guardian. Emergencies produce an added risk for visitors since it can be challenging for officials and first responders to determine who and where visitors are on the campus.
Most districts have policies and procedures in place to address campus visitation. But is it enough for parents and students? The recent 2021 State of School Safety Report, developed by Safe and Sound Schools and Raptor Technologies, revealed that nearly 20% of students think their school is not prepared to handle an unauthorized visitor. Even more guardians—about 25%—lack confidence in their school's ability to keep unwanted entrants out. Having an effective and visible digital visitor management system is the best way to heed risk and show parents and students that schools are actively managing school safety.
Digital visitor management systems help schools prevent dangerous mistakes by screening each visitor's personal information against sex offender registries in all U.S. states and territories. The most powerful systems also filter each person against customized databases, like those containing custodial restrictions, banned or restricted access, and expelled students. And now, with the invisible threat of COVID-19, schools need an efficient way to thoroughly screen visitors for exposure and gather the detailed data necessary for contact-tracing efforts.
Know with precision who is entering your school
Once they begin screening visitors, schools are often surprised by what they discover about some of their "known" entrants. For seven years, a California charter school network unknowingly gave a registered sex offender access to their buildings as a contractor. "We also flagged the spouse of a staff member who was not previously reported to us as a sex offender," recalled the network's safety and risk manager.
New Mexico's third-largest district faced a similar situation, except the registered sex offender was a parent. "We can't prohibit that person from accessing their child, but the alert [from the visitor management system] enables an administrator to escort the individual for the duration of the visit," the district's safety manager said.
These experiences—which are becoming more common—show that even if a person is a "known" frequent visitor, it is not safe to assume that they should have building access. Each entrant needs to be screened every time they sign into the school so that school staff and security can confidently know who is walking in their hallways, eating in the cafeteria, or volunteering as tutors for students.
Confirm students are released to approved guardians
"We have that extra sense of security by knowing that we are releasing a student to someone who the guardian trusts, but also someone we can trust and know that child is safe and secure with," a New Jersey assistant superintendent said of using their visitor management system.
"You don't always know who is living in the house next to you, or if a student's relative should be trusted to sign out a student," he continued. "That's what [the visitor management system] helps us determine. It's another check for the safety of our students."
The most robust systems sync with the school's Student Information Systems (SIS) to directly pull data from the database and ensure schools release students only to approved individuals. When a guardian signs in to pick up a student for early dismissal, the visitor management system should automatically screen them against the sex offender and custom databases and display the guardian's information in the school's SIS against the information in the visitor management system.
Keeping accurate records, both at the school and district level
An Ohio district that formerly relied on paper and pencil sign-in sheets found out how much they were missing. "People would sign in on a notepad or clipboard in the main office," the chief operations officer of the district shared. "Building staff had no way of knowing who was in the building, when they checked in, why they were in the building, or when they checked out." They also had no reliable way of keeping track of visitors across their buildings, including those previously denied access.
Now that the district uses a digital visitor management system, school administrators can see accurate and reliable visitor details and sign-in history—at the building and district level—for these individuals and make security decisions accordingly. If a visitor is banned from one establishment and attempts to sign into another building in the district, school staff are instantly notified.
Accounting for everyone on campus during evacuations or emergencies
"Signing a visitor logbook just doesn't do us any good," the security and emergency management supervisor of a Florida district acknowledged. "The logbook's not going to do any good if there's an emergency. You have to be able to account for everyone on campus."
Traditional paper logs become virtually useless in emergencies that require buildings to evacuate or go into lockdown. If the logbooks are left behind, lost, or damaged during the incident, there is no record of who is on school premises—or any way to determine if all visitors are safely accounted for following the emergency. These physical sign-in sheets also can't be accessed remotely by incident commanders or first responders.
The most powerful visitor management systems integrate with an emergency management system. This integration empowers schools to respond to and recover from emergencies faster and smarter. The system should enable school staff, first responders, and incident commanders to track every person on campus during the incident, including if they are injured, missing, or recovered.
Responding to the Invisible Threat of COVID-19
Keeping people with COVID-19 exposure risk out of the school is necessary to reduce the virus's spread. "When visitors check-in at [our school], we ask them health screening questions, and we get alerts if anyone who reports symptoms is attempting to sign in," the director of student services shared about her district's approach to COVID-19 screening.
The Illinois district also sends staff and students' guardians a daily questionnaire, asking them to certify that they are symptom-free, haven't been in close contact with anyone that has COVID-19, or have traveled internationally. The district's visitor management system streamlines this entire process and enables the community to accurately see screening results, giving them the visibility needed to take appropriate actions.
With their ability to track and report on visitor activity, visitor management systems are critical for contact tracing efforts. The reporting enables schools to quickly and accurately alert those that were potentially exposed to a sick individual.
Evolving as the School Safety Landscape Changes
All the districts mentioned in this article, and more than 35,000 other K-12 U.S. schools, have partnered with Raptor Technologies for reliable software and technology that keeps everyone inside their buildings safe. Raptor Visitor Management eliminates uncertainty and gives schools complete control of who is allowed to enter. The system also seamlessly integrates with Raptor Emergency Management and Raptor Volunteer Management.
"We have Raptor Visitor Management, Raptor Volunteer Management, and Raptor Emergency Management. Raptor is priceless,” said the Director of Student Services for the West Aurora School District 129 in Illinois. “Honestly, it has given us freedom, peace of mind, and the ability to communicate more accurately with one another. Raptor is part of our everyday operations."
To learn more about Raptor Technologies, visit www.raptortech.com. For the latest school safety recommendations and research, subscribe to School Safety Today, a Raptor Technologies podcast, on Apple Podcast or Spotify.
This article originally appeared in the January / February 2022 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.