How a single point of entry supports safe school environments

Andrew Kertesz

With Covid-19 restrictions slowly being lifted and schools once again opening their doors to their communities, it is important for school security personnel to put an emphasis on ensuring our schools are not only welcoming, but also safe for all.

A single point for visitor management

While there are many areas that school building officials can focus their attention, one of the first areas to consider is to ensure that there are processes and equipment in place to create a secure single point of entry in all campuses.

A single point of entry in schools is an approach whereby visitors and parents can obtain screening, information, and potential entry to inside the school from one specific location. This location is usually a front door or main entrance that is easily seen and supervised by a member of the staff who can control who can and cannot enter the building.

At a minimum, this entry point should be easily seen and clearly marked with signage outlining next steps including directions to a visitor management location like the main office where a staff member can take the steps to appropriately sign the visitor in.

Visitor management helps ensure a safe and secure space

For a number of reasons, it is important that these educational institutions create a process for single point of entry.

There are many situations where people who are not a member of the school in either a staff or student capacity might enter the facility. These can include programs being held within school, child pick up outside of normal hours for appointments, visitors joining as a guest to teach, or contractors doing maintenance to the building. These guests should not be able to enter the premises without first declaring who they are and why they are there, for both student and staff safety reasons and also for fire regulations.

There are also occasionally unwanted intruders who are trying to gain access who have no business being there. For this reason, it’s recommended that some form of gated entry is used, in addition to an audit trail to keep a record of who entered the school, for what purpose, and how long their stay was.

The visitor management process can vary from school to school depending on the age range of the students as well as the floor plan of the building. Technology exists to aid in almost every step of the way, but at a minimum this process should contain the following components:

  • A clearly marked main entrance near the main office that will be accepting and screening visitors. This should be a natural place for visitors to walk to and marked in a manner that can be seen from the parking lot.
  • All doors, including the main entrance, should be always locked until access is granted.
  • A method of communication should be easily accessed by the visitor from the main door.
  • At this point the staff member needs to decide whether to allow access to the visitor. Training should be conducted to all staff on the visitor screening process clearly defining who should be allowed into the building and for what purpose. If the visitor is deemed someone who should have access, the intercom device should be able to control the lock on the door, allowing that visitor entry and directions provided to the main office.
  • Once the visitor is at the main office, a proper sign in procedure should take place. ID should be provided and their name and purpose for the visit should be recorded. When they leave, a sign out time should also be recorded.
  • A visitor badge should be handed out and worn clearly visible, with and instructions provided outlining where this visitor should be in the school based on their purpose for attending the school during their visit.

Intercoms to open the door

Intercoms open the door to possibilities on school grounds

An effective way to ensure a locked door while also maintaining accessibility to those who need it is through an intercom that is clearly labelled and easy to use. A clearly-labelled single button intercom for visitor sign in that opens a direct line of communication to an available staff member creates a quick and easy method to begin the process of visitor screening. The intercom should also have a camera so the staff member can both hear and see the person or people they are speaking to.

There are many integrated network solutions that can support the process, and which can complement existing security systems. For instance, IP intercoms provide a cost-effective way to integrate video and audio communication that can perfectly integrate into the existing access control system or be the access control system. Theses intercoms can also send recordings to an existing Video Management Software (VMS) for a record of the interaction in case this needs to be reviewed later.

The benefits of moving towards an IP-based solution include interoperability between other technologies providing security on the premises as well as the ability to easily screen visitors from anywhere in the school. This allows for movement, allowing staff to answer calls from many network devices including computers, IP phones, mobile device, or dedicated answering units. In this way staff members do not need to be always located at a single desk to ensure the front door is being monitored.

Flexible and secure access control

It is also important to ensure a modern access control system is implemented at all school facilities. This will act as a way to limit entry to the buildings to certain people and can be programmed to work on schedules that fit the specific needs of each location.

This allows schools to provide unlimited access for school administrators, limited access for personnel responsible for critical infrastructure or high value assets, and student/teacher access to relevant areas of the school when they need it. This not only improves safety and security during the regular school day, it also provides the same level of protection for after-school programs and other community activities.

Modern IP-based access control systems can be configured to issue an alarm should a door be propped open. It should also be able to seamlessly operate in harmony with both the intercom devices as well as the video surveillance system

When used in combination with embedded analytics on intercoms or video cameras installed near the entrances, school officials can be alerted to loitering or other suspicious activity.  This empowers them to take a proactive approach to security, automating entry for those who should be there, and quickly responding to those who shouldn’t.

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