How to Welcome Campus Visitors

Can security people on an open college campus ensure that a visitor — someone from outside the campus community — doesn’t walk onto campus and begin stealing laptops or, worse, start shooting people?

Of course they can’t. Then again, it probably is possible to discourage crime at all levels by presenting a friendly and welcoming yet security-conscious face to visitors.

Start with a policy of requiring students, faculty, administrators, and staff to wear ID badges. The reason? It makes it easy to tell who among those walking across campus is visiting.

Follow up with a policy of asking visitors to wear ID badges inside buildings on campus. “Whether your campus is in rural Ohio or downtown Philadelphia, whether you have 10 buildings or 50, you need a centralized visitor management system that provides a badge for every visitor in your buildings,” says Rick Thompson, senior consultant with RETA, a Lamont, IL-based security consultant with a specialty in education.

Should you do this in all of your buildings? Maybe. It depends where your campus is. Is it in a part of a city where thieves can walk in and take laptops? Yes. Is it near a small town where everyone leaves their doors unlocked during the day? Perhaps not. Consult your security master plan.

There isn’t much you can do to badge visitors in common areas outside. Security police and campus security officers on patrol can greet visitors walking across campus. For visitors that seem to know where they are headed, officers can put on a warm friendly smile and say something like: “Welcome to campus. Have a good day.”

For visitors that seem lost or confused, the smile is the same but the greeting is more direct: “Welcome to campus; you look a little lost. May I help you find your way?”

Security consultants add that students, faculty, and staff encountering visitors should welcome visitors with a smile and a greeting as well as an offer of help if it seems appropriate.

Don’t think of this as a false front. Virtually all visitors on virtually every day have good intentions. A genuinely friendly greeting or nod and an offer of help communicates that this is a place that is ready, willing, and happy to help visitors accomplish their goals.

For the handful of people with bad intentions, it communicates something else: everyone is watching you.

But Students, Faculty, and Staff Won’t Wear ID Badges

Yes, they will. “It can be difficult,” concedes Thompson. “The best way that I’ve found is to tie the ID badge to everyday activities. Give everyone reasons to have their badges out all the time. Make it possible to have it out all the time by providing a lanyard — with different colors for students, faculty, administrators, staff, and visitors.

“Tie the card to building and elevator access control systems. Pair access control card functions with campus one-card systems for vending, meals, laundry rooms, and general debit transactions.”

Security must talk the policy up as well, by approaching members of the campus community with reminders to wear their ID badges. Plus, literature about the rationales for wearing the badges can appear on the campus public safety website, in periodic email reminders sent to students, and at other locations online and on campus.

Centralized Building-by-Building Technology

Back up the welcoming attitude and badges with technology that streamlines and speeds visitor badging and visitor management.

Thompson says that campuses today should use centralized visitor management packages that provide badges for visitors building by building and a centralized database of who is visiting in each building.

More and more institutions require visitors to leave a piece of collateral — such as a driver’s license — at the reception desk in exchange for the badge, continues Thompson. Collateral is especially important if the badge has embedded technology to enable access through locked doors. When the visitor leaves, he or she returns the badge and retrieves the collateral.

You can buy a centralized visitor management system and install it on campus, or subscribe to a software-as-a-service (SaaS) that provides visitor management services remotely over a web browser.Either way, choose a system with comprehensive capabilities. When a visitor enters building A, he checks in with the receptionist — no need for a security officer to do this in most facilities — and receives a visitor ID badge on a color-coded lanyard to wear around his neck.

Depending on the campus security assessment, the visitor management system might contain a driver’s license scanner that performs a quick background check. Modern systems can handle most of these transactions is less than 30 seconds, so no one encounters inconvenient delays.

Unwanted Visitors

Inside a building, students, faculty, administrators, staff, and visitors should wear ID badges. The access control and visitor management databases have a list of who is in the building. In an emergency — a fire, perhaps — the two databases can tell firefighters and other first responders how many people are in the building, who they are, and, in many cases, where in the building they are.

Part of controlling visitors involves deactivating access control cards possessed by people whose access rights have been discontinued. When students graduate and faculty and staff change jobs, the security officer managing the access control system must turn off their access cards. They are now visitors and must go through the visitor badging system like all other visitors.

Sometimes former members of the community are terminated employees. They might be students that have flunked out. They may have a grudge. Perhaps a faculty member is involved in a bitter divorce and fears that her estranged husband may attack her. For a number of legitimate reasons, members of the current campus community might want certain people barred from campus. The visitor management system can help with this.

Centralized systems can record watch lists — names of people not authorized to enter a building. When someone on a building watch list appears, the receptionist refuses to provide a visitor badge, and the system summons security.

Managing Visitors Requires a Good Security Organization

For a visitor management system to do its job, the rest of a campus security system must first be doing its job. “You have to get the overall campus security picture right to get visitor management right,” says Jeffrey A. Slotnick, CPP, PSP, chief security officer and founder of OR3m, a Bellevue, WA-based security consulting firm. “True security touches all aspects of a university. It starts with a security master plan that assess risks and outlines a strategy for addressing those risks with policies, procedures, people, and technology over the next several years.”

Specifically, a security master plan will manage and schedule how you hire security officers and sworn police officers. It will outline a schedule for installing access control technology in various campus buildings. It will include a schedule for building a central security headquarters with equipment that will monitor the functioning of the access control system and later the video surveillance system. It will set up a path for badging students, faculty, and staff.

Only after all of this is done can visitor management policies, procedures, and technologies contribute to campus security.