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Five Selection Criteria for Visitor Management Systems


 

How do I know that sex offenders aren't walking the halls of my child's school? That fundamental question is at the heart of visitor management systems (VMSs). In spite of privacy issues -- related to the fact that information regarding visitors is archived and searchable -- VMSs are finding their way into public schools today. As we become increasingly aware of sex offenders in our midst, it's more critical than ever that the VMSs chosen for use in schools provide comprehensive coverage.

Leander (Texas) Independent School District has even made its visitor management system a key component of its crisis management system. They share the following: Leander ISD implemented a new tool designed to increase the safety of students at all its elementary campuses. The Raptor V-Soft visitor management system will help keep campuses safer by producing uniform badges for all visitors. Visitors will be asked to present a valid photo I.D. card the first time they visit the school. (Examples of acceptable photo I.D. cards are: state issued drivers licenses or identification cards, official identification cards from many countries, or military identification cards.) Each visitor will be issued a badge with a photo, indicating the time and purpose of the visit. Once they are in the system, parents and other visitors will not need to present I.D.s at every visit; they'll be issued visitor badges simply by providing their names. At a time when we are used to presenting a drivers license to write a check or rent a video, we're certain visitors will understand that a few extra seconds is well worth the added safety our new system provides our students.
Source: Leander (Texas) ISD


VMS Vendors

* EasyLobby
* LobbyWorks
* Raptor V-Soft

But even if you, like Leander ISD, already have a plan in place for using a visitor management system, are you sure that plan is enough? What constitutes comprehensive coverage when it comes to screening visitor access to your schools?

Comprehensive coverage involves managing access, interfacing with state sex-offender databases, notification of law enforcement in case of an alert, hardware, software, and more. This article shares five criteria you can use in selecting a visitor management system for your district.

Criteria #1: Does the VMS meet your state's legal requirements?

It's important to check whether legal requirements are in place in your state or area. If legal requirements are in place, what are those requirements? Fortunately, the vendors mentioned in this article (see sidebar) each made some consideration for potential legal requirements.

Another consideration is what information is actually collected by the VMS installed in your school. Information should include, at minimum, the visitor's name, why s/he is there or his/her job affiliation, a photograph, date, time and length of visit. Some systems actually can scan the visitor's drivers license and use that as their source for a photo and other information.

Criteria #2: How does the VMS notify you when it detects a sex offender?

It's important that a VMS be able to scan for sex offenders in multiple databases (that is, scan for offenders from different state databases); how the VMS handles the situation when an offender is found is equally important. Some vendors provide multiple alerts, including custody orders, restraining orders, and banned individuals. Depending on which mobile provider you use, those alerts sometimes can be sent to your mobile phone via an instant/text message. At best, the system should notify both law enforcement and the front desk of a school.

Does finding an offender result in automatic notification to law enforcement? What action does the vendor recommend that campus staff take in the event a sexual offender is found?

Criteria #3: Will the VMS-required equipment work with your district's systems?

Several vendors use a variety of optical scanners, printers, and telephone and on-site support. Will those technological tools work and be easy to maintain? The cost of those tools also needs to be considered, especially during a district-wide deployment. One of the questions you need to ask yourself is, Can my district purchase scanners from a third-party at lower cost or is the equipment proprietary and specific to the company the district is purchasing the service from? Will buying equipment from one company result in vendor lock-in and keep you from moving your current VMS provider to a better one in the future? Considering that optical scanners can run $350 or better, is that cost sufficiently high enough that your district should consider going generic?

Criteria #4: How much support is needed to keep your VMS working?

Some visitor management systems require constant attention. You might need to monitor their use. Others are completely stand-alone and the VMS vendor provides service to the equipment. There is a cost difference, of course. It should be considered that, even if you assign a paraprofessional to support the VMS, you still are dedicating a staff member who could be doing something else -- working in the office, lunchroom duty, working one on one with a child. You will need to ask yourself whether that cost should be built into the contract cost of the VMS instead.

Criteria #5: How is data in your VMS protected?

As mentioned in the introduction, protecting the privacy of your visitors' information is important--especially considering that the majority will NOT be wanted criminals, sex offenders or undesirables. Unauthorized access to a computer or kiosk that typically comes with a visitor management system could result in damaging consequences. Because most VMSs store visitor information on their hard drives, that data needs to be protected. The VMS you choose should be encrypted, password-protected systems.

Conclusion

Moving from a paper-and-pencil, staff-member-managed visitor check-in system to a comprehensive technology-driven visitor management system can be expensive and challenging, but it is a critical step in protecting students and staff. Combined with parent/employee notification systems, and with the help of technology-assisted law enforcement, your school's security can be improved. Be sure to consider the criteria listed in this article as you work to select a visitor management system (VMS) for your district.

About the Author

As director of instructional technology for a large urban district in Texas, past president of the state-wide Technology Education Coordinators group in one of the largest U.S. technology educator organizations (TCEA), Miguel Guhlin continues to model the use of emerging technologies in schools. You can read his published writing or engage him in conversation via his blog at Around the Corner.

Article by Miguel Guhlin
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