Safety & Security (Prepare and Be Aware)

Managing Campus Visitors

Managing Campus Visitors


Violent events in American society have led college and university security directors to change the way they manage campus visitors. Time was, open campuses offered a warm welcome to visitors — townspeople and others — who were not part of the campus community. Of course, campuses employed security forces. “In the past, security officers had certain posts, perhaps at each entrance to the campus,” says Paul Timm, president of RETA Security, Inc. in Lemont, IL. “Others had fixed patrol routes.”

Under this system, members of the community as well as visitors pretty much came and went as they pleased. Security reacted when something needing a response happened.

Occasionally, a protest or a pep rally broke out and security would watch a little closer. Their presence often deterred trouble. If it didn’t and trouble erupted, they would step in quickly to handle the problem.

It’s Different Today

These days, college and university security people have decided that such an approach is too open. Security officers aim to be proactive, spot developing problems — caused by individuals or groups — and cut the problems off before an incident occurs. It doesn’t always work, but that’s the goal.

To facilitate that goal, college and university security professionals have moved beyond the fixed security station and predictable patrol routes of yesterday. “Today, security officers on patrol will stop to engage visitors,” says Timm. “We’ll approach visitors and speak to them: ‘Hello, welcome to our campus. May I help you find your destination?’

“When engaging visitors, security officers actively look for potential risks. We count on people to intervene, discourage and stop unwanted activity.”

Today, these and other visitor management procedures are followed by campus security as well as law enforcement officers assigned to a campus. Police officers, of course, undergo training that enables them to intervene and tamp down emotions when necessary.

Security officers can be trained in the same techniques. In fact, some security directors put their officers through formal police training programs to give them the skills they need to manage trouble.

Who’s Coming to Visit?

A key visitor management issue involves identifying visitors. “This is a difficult issue,” says Kevin Davis, J.D., CPP, 1st vice chair with the ASIS International School Safety and Security Council. “Most campuses want to maintain an open and inviting atmosphere. Yet many campuses cover many acres and consist of many buildings and outdoor areas, making it difficult to identify visitors and control access to campus.

“Some campuses are gated or located in a low number of buildings, making it relatively easy to control access. Security on these campuses can require visitors to wear distinctive visitor ID badges when entering the campus.”

Davis also notes the difficulties any school will have controlling access when hosting outside activities and rallies on campus.

Large and Small Schools

“There are different strategies for managing people on campus in small and large schools,” says Rick Thompson, a former campus security consultant with RETA Security. RETA recently merged with Facility Engineering Associates (FEA), a Washington, DC-based engineering consulting firm with offices around the country.

Smaller schools, continues Thompson, can manage access with little more than a fence and a gate with a guard.

“We’ve found that the best way to control access in larger schools with many buildings is to focus on each individual building,” he says. “You can use photo ID badges and a single access point in each building. Everyone goes past a security desk at the entrance staffed by a security person — or someone that works in the building. Everyone coming in displays a badge. Visitors that don’t have badges must check in at the desk and show an ID.”

It’s best to have a system that enables you to make a photo ID for visitors. There are two reasons for this. First, in today’s world, it is simply too risky to allow potential bad actors into your buildings. Second, if there is an emergency — a fire or an earthquake, for instance — security must make sure that everyone gets out of the building safely. To do that, officers must rely on employee and visitor records that report the total number of people in the building and their names.

Why not just count people going into the building? Certainly that is a faster, easier method. Then again, a more formal system that issues photo ID badges will provide more accurate information in the event of an emergency.

Thompson relates the example of a college in a Midwestern city — he didn’t want to name the school — that has set up a comprehensive visitor management system based on photo ID badges.

“The IDs are good for one day, and they are programmed to control access,” he says. “Inside campus buildings, certain areas have different access control priorities. There are data centers, rare book rooms in the library, chemistry labs, artists’ studios, executive floors and so on. At this school, security can program key fobs and cards to provide access to each of the areas individual students and faculty members need to visit.

“As a result, everyone can move freely around campus going where their fobs and cards will let them go.”

Managing Campus Visitors


Managing Group Gatherings and Protests

Managing students, faculty and community visitors has a routine to it that works well when applied consistently.

But what about group gatherings and protests, which need large open spaces — like those available on college and university campuses. Colleges and universities have always been focal points to express political and social views, observes Davis from ASIS. The prevalence of protests appears to be cyclical, driven by the social make-up of each generation — protests were commonplace during the Vietnam era, but virtually unheard of during the ’80s and early ’90s.

“Today’s millennials are a very connected generation, with social media and the Internet providing a quick medium to find like-minded individuals,” Davis says. “As a result, the trend of social rallies and protests has strengthened in recent years. Media coverage has also helped to propel rallies and protests to the forefront.”

How do you manage events such as these, where violence might lurk as close as an outbreak of ill temper? “Most colleges and universities have plans to manage large crowds, especially potentially unruly crowds,” Davis says. “For instance, when events are pre-planned, extra officers, and in some cases, local law enforcement agencies are called in to help manage the crowd. The goal is to keep the rally as non-confrontational as possible.”

Many schools designate certain areas for rallies and demonstrations, continues Davis. “This affords each group the right to peaceably assemble while helping police and security manage the crowd,” he says.

Today, campus visitors come as individuals, groups and crowds, all of whom present management challenges. The key to effective management seems to be planning for various types of groups that may appear, either spontaneously or by way of a plan. Ask the police for help in setting up plans.

How many security and police officers will it take to manage 50 people? One hundred people? Five hundred people? Is it a pep rally for a football game or an angry protest against a controversial speaker? How soon can the police arrive with enough officers to provide effective management?

Considering this, all schools need a basic plan as well as modifications that reflect variations in the goals of different groups. Campus officials must plan to manage individual visitors and small groups as well as pep rallies and, perhaps, large protest movements. And they must create responses ahead of time — because there will be no time to figure things out from scratch once a group begins to form. At that point, it’s time to spring into action.

This article originally appeared in the issue of .