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Why Visitor Management Systems are Letting Threats Walk in the Front Door

Expert Insights from Joe Hendry, PSP, CLEE, Senior Director of Onsite Services for Navigate360

Last year, my team and I assessed more than 125 schools across the United States. One of the biggest and most concerning takeaways we had was how easy it is to bypass school Visitor Management Systems (VMS).

Bottom line: We must stop treating Visitor Management Systems as badge printers.

When I interview school personnel, security teams and law enforcement there is always a concern about physical building security. There is heavy focus on door locks, alarms, cameras and technology. While these things are important, I have found that the easiest way to get into a building is through the front door, using the very thing that is supposed to keep people safe, the Visitor Management System.

The reason my team and I can get into buildings is not magic, manipulation or by being mendacious (well, maybe a little, but only because we are allowed to be). It is the failure of inadequate Visitor Management Systems.

What is the purpose of a Visitor Management System?

Visitor Management Systems are designed to serve two main purposes. First, they are supposed to track people who have been vetted, such as volunteers, and allowed to enter the building and keep track of them in the event of an emergency. Second, they deny entry to those who are not permitted to enter the building, such as sex offenders, people without valid identification or others who may be denied entry to the school based on previous behavior.

However, what we’ve found during our assessments is that VMS providers have forsaken security for convenience, and many schools are using the systems incorrectly, risking the safety of their students and staff.

Common Visitor Management System Issues

One of the most significant problems with Visitor Mangement Systems is that they are often treated as a standalone security measure. During our assessments, we have seen the dangerous practice of VMS providers letting schools put their product in the lobby and allowing visitors to input their own information. We’ve entered fictitious names, used other people’s legitimate IDs and lied about our reasons for being on campus when registering. In these instances, when school staff were relying on the advice given to them by their VMS provider, we were able to print our own visitor badge and walk into the school every time. The providers are permitting convenience over security, which is extremely dangerous.

Another issue we have found is that many Visitor Management System providers are great at selling systems but have poor support when systems stop working. About half of the schools we assess have a Visitor Management System that isn’t working when we arrive, and they must resort to pen and paper. Schools have reported that they stopped calling providers to get it repaired, and their system hasn’t worked for several months. Poor design and poor support lead to fatigue among staff and impact good security practices.

The third issue is that some outside vendors and parents do not want to be “inconvenienced” by signing in. Some have even asked schools to bypass the entire vetting system, which is a huge red flag from a security perspective. The school system and the vendor must get stakeholder buy-in on why the system is so important. Proper vetting procedures being followed can stop a person from entering the building and putting students and staff in danger. All vendors, contractors and volunteers working at a school must be vetted, especially if they are in contact with children. To not do so opens a school to liability and puts students at risk.

Navigate360’s Visitor Management System Sets the New Standard for School Safety

We must stop treating Visitor Management System as badge printers. They serve as a legitimate and important part of a comprehensive security system when used and placed properly. Good systems are purposely designed to prevent entry, not make it convenient to get in. The way some of these systems operate makes schools more vulnerable, especially if a threat can use them to walk in the front door. Schools must ensure that their VMS is being used correctly, and vendors must prioritize security over convenience.

To learn more about our comprehensive approach to visitor management and school security, contact us today.

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