School Visitor Management

Anonymous reporting systems enhance safety

Nearly every violent incident at a school, a workplace, or a public setting is followed by media coverage in which people point to obvious warning signs that had been ignored. It may have been a student shooter’s obsession with weaponry, a co-worker’s muttered threats, a mass killer’s propensity for harming animals … in each case, there’s something the after-the-fact experts tell us we should have noticed that maybe, just maybe would have prevented the violence.

 Assume we had taken note of the behavior in question. What were we supposed to do with our observations and suspicions?

 For a long time, society has trained us to keep our mouths shut. As children, we’re told not to be “tattletales,” and as adolescents, “telling on someone” can result in our incurring the wrath of a bully. In the adult world, the idea of sharing information is often considered to be “ratting” on someone and “whistleblowers” are typically isolated by others around them.

 After 9/11 and incidents such as the Columbine and Sandy Hook school shootings, that attitude started to shift. Law enforcement and other authorities have shared the message that when we see something that makes us uneasy, we need to say something about it. If a student is making violent threats on social media, we need to alert the school’s principal. If a co-worker makes angry comments about the manager and audibly fantasizes about shooting her, we need to tell someone who can investigate.

 It makes sense, but again we go back to the question: what are we supposed to do with our observations and suspicions? We don’t want to be perceived as a tattletale or rat, nor do we want to become the target of someone who’s unstable just because we shared our concerns about that individual and his or her behavior.

 That’s where the value of some type of reporting system that allows people to make reports either anonymously or with the confidence that their names will be kept secret. People are far more likely to call attention to dangerous situations if they don’t fear any personal backlash.

 Such a system doesn’t have to be limited to threats or criminal activities, and one of the most successful examples exists in the aviation industry. Some years back, industry and government leaders collaborated to create the Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS), which provides a way for pilots, service technicians, air traffic controllers, and others to self-report near-misses, mistakes, and other problems without fear of penalty or retribution. The goal of systems like ASRS is to gather information that can identify underlying problems and educate others, so they don’t make the same mistakes. Reporting systems can also be put into place for issues such as fraud, sexual harassment, and compliance issues.

 Many school districts are now using the Say Something Anonymous Reporting System that was developed by the violence prevention organization known as Sandy Hook Promise. The system gives students and adults a way to alert school administrators to potentially dangerous situations, so they can investigate and intervene as necessary.

 Creating an effecting voluntary reporting program includes several considerations. First, you need a clear scope and straightforward process. How will reporting take place? Who will receive those reports? Ideally, the person or people you select to play that role should be well-known and respected leaders who have demonstrated professional maturity.

 Your process should also spell out exactly what that person is expected to do with the information and how quickly they should take action. That’s especially important when you receive a report of something such as suicidal ideation, in which delays are unacceptable. How will reports and follow-up be documented? You also don’t want to establish a process that circumvents or undermines established authorities such as law enforcement or school administrators, or that puts your organization at risk for violating laws. As an example, some states require immediate reporting of suspected child abuse, so your process can’t sidestep that.

 Most of all, you must protect the confidentiality of people making reports. There’s no room for error -- a single breach of that confidentiality will destroy any trust people have placed in the system and ensure that nobody will make any reports.

Someone phoned in a bomb threat. Now what?

It’s an ordinary day, and the person at your front desk smiles as she chats with a co-worker. The phone rings, and her smile remains as she greets the caller, only to hear a nervous voice tell her there is a bomb in your building and everyone had better get out before it explodes.

 

What’s the next step? If you’ve been proactive, you’ve already developed a plan for this situation and trained the people who answer your phones about what they should do. If you don’t have a plan, the response is likely to be a panicked evacuation.

 Bomb threats are some of the most disruptive situations a school, church, business, or other facility is likely to encounter. While the overwhelming majority of such threats turns out to be pranks, the potential damage from an actual explosive device is so significant that experts recommend the threats be taken seriously.

 According to the U.S. Bomb Data Center, the federal agency responsible for tracking bomb- and arson-related incidents, there were 1,536 bomb threats reported in 2016. Of those, 529 were made to schools and 254 to businesses. The agency reported that there’s been a 33 percent increase in bomb threats to schools since 2014. Students know a bomb threat will be taken seriously and bring classes to a temporary halt, so whether someone has a gripe with the administration or really isn’t ready for that Algebra test, a threat -- whether it’s phoned in or takes the form of a note in a restroom or a comment on social media -- seems to be an effective way to cause trouble.

 The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) cautions that every bomb threat is unique and has to be considered in light of the nature of the facility and who uses it. They note that law enforcement officials and facility managers are usually in the best position to determine whether the threat is credible and how to act.

 If your facilities don’t have a plan for dealing with this type of threat, it’s a good idea to develop one and share it with those who are most likely to receive the threat and those who will have to make decisions. It’s also wise to obtain the advice of local law enforcement agencies so your plan is consistent with their procedures. You can find information about developing a plan at the DHS website, and many organizations have posted their plans online. A quick Google search can provide a great starting point.

 Generally, the first step in a response is to remain calm and notify the authorities immediately. With phoned threats, DHS encourages people to stay on the line with the caller as long as possible while someone else makes the notification. Be polite and engage the caller by asking questions about the specific location of the device, when it is supposed to detonate, how it looks, and what type of explosive it contains. If the caller is willing to talk, ask whether he or she placed the bomb and why he or she did it. More information makes it easier for law enforcement to make the right response. The person taking the information should not hang up the phone even if the caller does, because it may be possible to determine where the call came from.

 If the people responsible for decisions about evacuation determine that’s the right course of action, evacuate calmly and carefully. If your facility conducts regular fire drills, sounding a fire alarm is an effective way to get everyone out of the building.

 A similar issue is what to do if someone discovers a suspicious item in your facility, such as an unusual bag or package that appears to be out of place. Here again, you should have a policy that spells out procedures to follow. Not every item is suspicious -- for example, people accidentally walk away from backpacks and purses all the time. On the other hand, if it appears someone tried to hide the object, if it has a strange smell or odd sounds coming from it, or if it’s in an unusual place, there may be reason to be concerned. People who leave bombs or other hazardous materials tend to put them in locations where they can do damage to people and important assets.

 If you do find a suspicious item, DHS recommends that you remain calm and refrain from touching or moving it. Follow your organization’s procedure, whether that involves contacting a facility manager or placing a call to law enforcement, and follow their instructions. If you can’t reach someone and are convinced that there’s an immediate danger, calmly evacuate the area. Moving farther away from an explosive device generally is the safest course of action.

 

Are Your After-School Events Safe Places?

You’ve done an impressive job of putting safety practices in place during the school day. After the school day starts, visitor access is limited to a single door, and all visitors must be buzzed in and check in at the front desk. You’ve been using a visitor management system that verifies people haven’t been banned by your district or aren’t on sex offender registries. An off-duty police officer walks the halls and verifies that all exterior doors are closed and locked several times throughout the day.

 Then the final bell sounds and the students and staff leave. But that doesn’t mean your building is empty. In the late afternoon and into the evening, clubs are meeting and teachers are tutoring students who are struggling to catch up. The basketball team is running layup drills in the gym, while the band director is leading one more practice before Thursday night’s concert. The evening custodians are preparing the building for the next day.

So where are your safeguards? How many people are in the school? Are you sure they all belong there? Are you sure they’re all going to leave when it’s time to go? What parts of the building are they able to access? Could a pair of students with non-educational activities in mind find a hiding place? Could someone with evil intent hide a weapon in a locker?

 The same questions could apply to churches and other organizations. The flaw in many security plans is that they’re designed solely for the facility’s primary use -- during class time, around worship services, or in the business day. Those are the busiest times of day, so they get the lion’s share of attention and protection.

But most schools, churches, and organizations see activity outside of normal hours, often with relaxed access controls. The basketball players drift in through the locker room door. The custodians prop open the door near the dumpster so they can sneak a smoke break. While the Bible study facilitator is enlightening his group, his preteen kids are running amok in the hallways. Add in after-hours events, from athletic contests, to choral concerts, to Scout meetings.

 The simple fact is that if your safety plan fails to address the other times of day, it’s inadequate. Your safety plan needs to incorporate all times in which people are in your facilities, whether that involves visitors or employees. The concern behind that approach isn’t only that someone who intends to do harm to others can access your facilities. Allowing people to roam your buildings unsupervised could create a liability issue if they were to injure themselves. In addition, what would happen if there were a fire or severe weather? Would occupants know what to do? Would first responders know where to check?

 First, take some time to do some planning. Focus on how your facilities are used and occupied during “off” hours. Look at activities and event schedules so you have a clear understanding of what’s happening and who is involved. Second, determine how people get in and out of the building after hours. Ideally, access and egress should be limited to a single entrance. Third, look for ways you can block off access to other parts of the building, such as by installing security gates. Fourth, consider how you can provide supervision of activities. If you’re expecting a big crowd for a band concert or a volleyball tournament, you may want to have security staff on hand. At the very list, administrators should be at the front doors to monitor who is entering. For activities such as after-school practices, make sure coaches know they are responsible for supervising the entire team while they’re in the building.

 Finally conduct spot checks of your facilities after hours. See if the activities match what’s supposed to be happening. Make sure the occupants belong, and that they aren’t in places where you don’t want them. Walk through empty hallways and look for unlocked rooms. Conducting such checks will not only reassure about the safety of your facilities, but they’ll also give you ideas for additional steps you can take to ensure everyone’s safety.

 

What’s the Purpose of a Visitor Management System?

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Visitor management systems have many different purposes and functions. They ensure increased safety by offering peace of mind for students, teachers, and parents, and they allow schools the freedom to address other areas of concern in creating a successful educational experience. SafeVisitor Solutions is a visitor management system that does all of these things for schools and businesses.

In a building that uses SafeVisitor, all visitors must scan their state-issued ID in order to enter. Their information is run against the National Sex Offender registry and against any exclusion lists the building may have in place. This ensures that schools have screened and identified all visitors for the protection of those within.

These screening procedures allow peace of mind for anyone involved in a school that is using SafeVisitor’s system. Students will know that their school is safe, thus freeing them from worry about the wrong people entering their school. They can focus on school work. Teachers will be able to focus on teaching and the needs of the classroom. Parents will know that their children are in a safe environment every day.

With such an increased sense of safety, the school can perform at a higher level. Because the system allows for the administration to trust that their school will be safe, administrators can focus their time on other areas to improve the school. Knowing the building is protected is very important not only because safety is a big concern, but because it will allow all concerned to perform at a higher level.

Safety is crucial for all schools. A visitor management system is very useful to enhance security. If you would like to learn more about SafeVisitor Solutions, please join us for a free webinar!

 

Are You Keeping Students Safe with a Quality Visitor Management System?

There can never be too much safety for our schools. As technology advances, it is vital for schools to make technological advances as well. A main advancement that many schools are implementing is a visitor management system.

Visitor management systems not only keep children safe, but they also provide a sense of comfort for your district’s parents. SafeVisitor Solutions can provide safety for your school, comfort for parents, and organization for the school’s office. Here are a few key features that SafeVisitor offers:

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  • Monitors temporary visitors by checking the visitor’s identification against the National Sex Offender Registry in a matter of seconds.

  • If cleared for entry, SafeVisitor will print a time-expiring badge for the visitor.

  • The software allows the school’s attendant to know who is in the building at all times.

  • SafeVisitor Solutions can screen and manage school volunteers.

These features are only a few that SafeVisitor Solutions offers to keep schools safe. Along with the features listed above, the software can also manage existing employee background checks along with all background checks for any vendors that come into the school. These features ensure that anyone in contact with students on school grounds, is thoroughly checked and vetted.

With SafeVisitor, schools are able to manage the safety of students and teachers with ease. With SafeVisitor Solutions, both safety and visitor management will be enhanced in a more organized and efficient manner. If your school does not have the latest in a visitor management system, please check out a webinar on how SafeVisitor Solutions can help your district.

Please click here to register for a free webinar!

How to Create Visitor Management Excluded Parties Lists

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When managing visitors to a location, especially a school, the focus is usually on keeping out “bad” people – specifically, sex offenders. Sometimes, however, the people you need to keep out of a particular area are not so easily identified.

Temporary restrictions might be necessary for certain life events such as:

  • Spousal Separations

  • Divorce

  • Child Custody issues

  • Court Orders e.g., Restraining Orders

With our SafeVisitor visitor management system, a front desk attendant can seamlessly determine if a person is on the National Sex Offender Registry (NSOR) or has a temporary restriction by using an Exclusion List. This exclusion can apply to a single location or at all locations of your organization or campus. Since our software is cloud based, any changes made are instantly applied to all locations within your organization.

When excluding a person, you simply  enter their first and last name. A date of birth (DOB), if known, helps to ensure accuracy, but is not required. You can also specify the reason for the exclusion.

  • Failed Background Check

  • Trespass

  • Terminated Employee

  • Violent or Threatening Behavior

  • Restricted Access

There is an “Other” option where you can type in the exact reason for the person to not be permitted onsite. There is also an option to upload a picture of the person if one is available.

Now, when a visitor enters your facility and scans their drivers license, they will be checked against the NSOR and your Exclusion List.

An exclusion list can be a very important tool from an administrative viewpoint because people don’t always know what’s going on in a coworker’s private life, and that person may not want to share personal issues with their coworkers.

A tragic example of this happened recently in a San Bernardino school. The husband of a teacher supposedly showed up at school to drop off something to his wife, a teacher. Since everyone knew him they let him go to her classroom where he proceeded to pull a gun, kill her, as well as a special needs student before killing himself. It was an incredible tragedy that possibly could have been avoided or minimized had some additional visitor safeguards been in place.

A visitor management system  that utilizes exclusions could have flagged him when he walked in the door and denied him access to the building.

Would you like to learn more about SafeVisitor and managing an exclusion list?  Join us for a free webinar we host each Thursday.  Click here to register.

What Is the Best School Visitor Management System?

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Selecting the best school visitor management system is not a simple matter.  Over the years I have worked with schools that have a wide variety of needs and concerns when implementing a visitor management system:

·        Saving time for front office personnel

·        Finding an integrated solution that allows electronic student check in/out

·        Kiosk models so the visitor does all the work

If you are looking for a visitor management system (VMS) to simply improve the efficiency of the front office, then you really don’t need to read any further because I am going to focus on the core components of a VMS from a risk-management perspective. I have spent the past 25 years in risk management. I started as a Violent Crime Detective with a large metropolitan police department. I also served as a Violence Prevention Consultant for organizations such as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Department of Defense, and the U.S. Department of Justice.  For the past 13 years, I’ve worked as the Founder and CEO of Safe Hiring Solutions and SafeVisitor.  I have witnessed violence up close and personal and it has shaped my perspective and priorities for keeping people and organizations safe.

Now this does not mean that a visitor management system cannot have integrations with student information systems or other applications for that much needed efficiency.  We do that with our SafeVisitor system.  However, SHS never loses its focus of the foundation of what we are doing i.e.  keeping you and your students safe.

I have a unique perspective as a former detective, and I strongly feel that what I offer that is most valuable to school administrators, is my depth of understanding concerning violent criminals and their methods. I know they can be expected to attempt to enter schools by any means possible e.g. applying for jobs, serving as volunteers, or becoming trusted frequent vendors.

At Safe Hiring Solutions, we have conducted more than 700,000 background checks for schools over the past 13 years. 

Just recently, we flagged an existing school employee who was applying with a new school district.  He had a case of sexual exploitation as well as a substantiated case with the Department of Child Services for child neglect. This man has been teaching for several years.

On a monthly basis, we flag sex offenders that are trying to access schools.  Offenders who harm children are constantly seeking access to children.  Schools are defenseless against these predators without comprehensive risk management solutions.

So when SHS talks about visitor management systems, we are always focused on keeping people who would harm children out of our schools and away from our children. Surprisingly, the majority of organizations I enter each week, schools and non-schools alike, do not have a single tool for managing their flow of visitors beyond a self-disclosing clip board.

The first step in protecting your school, students, and employees is to create a safe perimeter.  Paul Dvorak, SafeVisitor Advisory Board Member and Secret Service Special Agent in Charge of Indianapolis Office, has helped us better understand how critical a safe perimeter is when protecting dignitaries such as the President of the United States.

A school needs to create a safe perimeter between entering the building and visitors.  A clip board on the front office desk is not a safe perimeter.  The safe perimeter has already been breached just by being at the front desk

A self-service kiosk in the lobby is no better than a clipboard.  It does provide a false sense of security that comes with using technology, but there are still a couple of problems:

1.      They are already in your lobby, and

2.      How do you know they are who they register as?

How does SafeVisitor approach perimeter security?

  • Reduce Unexpected/Unknown Visitors.  We work closely with schools to classify their visitors.  Who are they?  Most visitors fall into a category of parent volunteers, partner volunteers, vendors/ contractors, student teachers, and business associates of administrators.  When you work through this list, it becomes apparent that the vast majority of visitors to a school are neither unclassified nor unexpected.
  • Comprehensive Background Checks.  Frequent visitors such as volunteers, vendors, student teachers, and substitutes should submit to a comprehensive background check before receiving clearance to enter the school.  The background check can also be set on a renewal interval of every 2, 3, or 4 years.

 

  • Business Meetings.  Most business meetings are scheduled in advance.  The VMS should accommodate pre-registration for business meetings or low-risk visitors that are not having direct or ongoing contact with students.  Pre-registration allows the visitor to be pre-vetted against an “excluded parties list” and the National Sex Offender Database.
  • GeoFence.  SafeVisitor can create a perimeter around each school building, so that all approved visitors can download a mobile app and activate their ID.  As they cross the geofence, it sends their information to the front office computers for review and verification before buzzing them into the building.
  • Excluded Parties. Each school can create a list of excluded parties based on their own policies.  Anybody on the list attempting to enter the building or grounds will trigger and alert law enforcement, administers, or designated security.
  • National Sex Offender Search.  Schools have the option of running a National Sex Offender Search every time a visitor enters one of their buildings.  Even previously approved visitors who have passed a comprehensive background check can have things happen between visits. This process will flag them.
  • Kiosk with Scanner.  Self-service kiosks do little to improve security.  Used appropriately, a kiosk is best deployed in a vestibule between the doors and requires the visitor to scan in with their SafeVisitor ID or government issued ID.

If you would like a deeper discussion and demonstration on how to use a visitor management system, join us for one of our SafeVisitor weekly demos or setup a personal demo.