If you’ve established a visitor control process for your business, school, or church, good for you. Being aware of who is entering your premises and making sure you keep people who don’t belong there from getting in is one of the best ways you can ensure the security and well-being of the people you want to protect.
Whether you use technology like SafeVisitor or have some kind of manual system or list that identifies people who should be denied access, eventually you’re going to encounter a situation in which someone who’s on that list will demand entry. How you and your front desk staff react will make a significant difference in how the situation will play out -- whether the unwanted visitor leaves on his or her own, or whether things escalate to the point of violence or arrest.
The most important thing you can do is plan and train before the situation occurs. If you haven’t prepared for the inevitable moment when you need to inform someone that he or she can’t come in, you or your staff won’t know how to act effectively. The wrong actions can quickly turn a simple disagreement into a traumatic event.
Part of that training will be strategies for staying calm and dealing with the individual in a polite manner. Someone who is being refused access to your premises is likely to become angry, highly emotional, and even agitated. If they’re met with anger and yelling from your staff, that response will quickly escalate. It’s also a wise idea to have a backup person nearby who can respond right away if it’s clear the unwanted visitor is becoming agitated.
The visitor may not be aware that he or she isn’t allowed in your facility, so the first step is to gently and politely explain that they cannot come in because of your policies. Your employees shouldn’t make it seem as though they’ve made that decision on their own. Instead, they can say (for example), “The school district has a policy that people who have been placed on the no-visit list cannot come into our school, and your name is on that list.” They can also explain who the visitor can contact with questions or to obtain more information.
Some unwelcome visitors may be on such a list because of domestic violence or custody issues, such as a noncustodial parent illegally trying to contact his or her child at school. They may be aware that such contact is prohibited, but in their anger and frustration, they’re willing to take a chance. It’s also possible that their name is on the list as the result of human error. It’s important that the person at your front desk not try to resolve the issue on his or her own, because that can create a distraction and shift the visitor’s anger to that person. Give the individual the contact information, ask them to leave, and allow them to take care of it.
Visitors who are angry may begin to raise their voices or yell at your front desk staff in an effort to intimidate or frighten them. Often, they’ll create a disruption to gain sympathy from onlookers or in the hope that your staff will let them in to avoid an embarrassing situation. Train your staff to hold their ground and contact security or law enforcement if the level of anger increases. The same is true of an unwanted visitor simply refuses to leave.
If the individual appears to have a serious mental health issue, is incoherent, or appears likely to become violent, your best strategy is an immediate call to law enforcement as a precaution. While police officers and paramedics will tell you that dealing with individuals who have mental health issues is one of the more unpleasant parts of their jobs, they do have training and experience that you and your staff probably lack. First responders would rather you err on the side of safety than risk having a situation become more dangerous.
Finally, teach your front desk staff to trust their gut. When a visitor’s presence or actions make them feel uneasy, there’s probably a good reason for it. It’s better to call for assistance early in the process than to find themselves in a situation that quickly worsens.