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Choosing a visitor management system part 2: What do you want it to DO?

Thursday, May 28, 2015  by Andrew Jones


This is the second of three articles about choosing a visitor management system.

What do you want your visitor management system to do? The answer sounds obvious, doesn’t it? You want it to manage your visitors. But not all visitor management systems perform the same tasks, so it’s worth thinking about what those tasks are and if they are important to you.

Identification

Do you know everybody at work? If you do, you can tell the employees from the visitors. If you don’t, a stranger you encounter could be anybody. Either way, if they aren’t wearing a visitor badge, you may wonder who they are and what they are doing there.

The table below lays out eight scenarios where you encounter a stranger at work. Who you think the stranger is depends on two basic things: (1) what your organization’s visitor badge policy is and (2) whether or not the stranger is actually wearing a visitor badge.

Visitor Management Company Policy

As you can see, the less an organization relies on identifying its building’s occupants, the more mystery there is about their identity. At best, not identifying visitors arouses employees’ curiosity and, at worst, leaves people and property exposed to potential harm.

A good visitor management system, in conjunction with the policies it supports, should be able to tell you who has permission to be in your facility, as well as who does not.

Tracking

Whether you work in a school, a hospital, a business, or a government or non-profit agency, the occupants of your building fall into four distinct categories:

1. People who are there full time and permanently (employees, students, and patients, clients, or residents, such as in an assisted-living facility)
2. People who are there full time and temporarily (contractors, temporary help, and substitute teachers)
3. People who are there part time and frequently (vendors and volunteers)
4. People who are there infrequently or just once (visitors, including family members and clergy, and students on a field trip)

The first category above falls out of the scope of most visitor management systems. But it is good policy to know, at all times, which of these people are in your building and, better yet, where these people are in your building. In an emergency evacuation, everyone needs to be accounted for.

Background

The more sophisticated your visitor management system and policy are, the better you can verify that a visitor is who he says he is. Asking him to produce some government-issued identification, like a driver’s license, is a good start. But some organizations — especially those, like schools, with vulnerable occupants — require more information about their visitors. This can be accessed through online databases, as well as from an audit trail maintained by your own computerized VMS.

Record-keeping and Reporting

While a VMS’s tracking capability let’s you know who is (or isn’t) in your facility now, its record-keeping and reporting function should tell you who was in your facility, as well as when, how often, and who they visited. This helps complete a visitor’s background (was there any trouble last time?) and provide evidence for liability or confidentiality issues. For schools and hospitals, a “watch list” can help identify potential custodial issues.

Previously:
Choosing a visitor management system — part 1: Four basic criteria
Next:
Choosing a visitor management system — part 3: Not all badges are made alike

Also:
Pro’s and Con’s of a Manual Visitor Sign-In System
Pro’s and Con’s of an Electronic Visitor Management System

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Choosing a visitor management system part 1: Four basic criteria

Thursday, May 21, 2015  by Andrew Jones

Choosing a visitor management system — part 1:  Four basic criteria
This is the first of three articles about choosing a visitor management system.

How do you know who is in your facility? A good visitor management system, or VMS, helps you: sign in visitors, provide identification for them to wear, keep track of them during their visit, and keep a record of their visit.

What follows are four basic criteria that most organizations care about when researching a visitor management system.

1 — Degree of security

A visitor management system is only part of the overall security equation. So it helps to consider what you want out of it in the context of your overall security strategy. For purposes of this article, when we say “security,” we are referring to what’s known as “physical security,” which is concerned with protecting people and property within and around a building. That said, a VMS can do only so much, but some systems do more than others.

Below are five main elements of physical security:
1. Deterrence (warning signs, perimeter markings, lighting)
2. Obstruction (walls, locked doors, fences)
3. Identification (I.D./access cards, badges, other credentials)
4. Detection (cameras, alarms, other forms of surveillance — for people and things coming in, as well as those going out)
5. Response (by security guards and police)

Of these five elements, the third one is most concerned with the management of visitors, providing Identification that is temporary, as well as that of more permanent occupants, like employees.

Identification also acts as a Deterrent (#1) and helps with Detection (#4), but in varying degrees of effectiveness. For example, identification cards that can unlock doors are more secure than adhesive badges that merely show a visitor’s name. Still, even requiring a name badge makes it harder for intruders to roam a facility unescorted (Deterrence). And a video camera can tell if a person is wearing approved identification (Detection). This is just one example of how these five elements of physical security overlap. (Here’s another: though security guards are noted under Response, they certainly aid in Deterrence as well.)

2 — Ease of Use (initially and ongoing)

Generally, the ease of using a visitor management system is directly related to the Degree of Security it provides. If you want your VMS to scan driver’s licenses and maintain a database of troublemakers, you would expect a longer and more complicated installation and training process than that of a simple sign-in book.

3 — Cost

This is probably an unfair question, but what is security worth to you? So many organizations say they can’t afford a visitor management system. But, as soon as there is an incident, security becomes more of a priority and budget dollars are found. Then, things quiet down, and next year’s budget returns to pre-incident levels.

In the scheme of things, visitor management is “soft” security. It likely won’t prevent an armed intruder from wreaking havoc. But it provides other benefits:

  • Encouraging visitors to check in and out at the front office
  • Allowing the front office to authorize visits (and to refuse them)
  • Helping staff to identify and assist strangers in the halls
  • Knowing who is in the building at all times
  • Keeping a record of who visited whom, and when
  • Assuring building occupants that a security procedure is in place

It’s hard to know how much security is enough. But visitor management is among the most affordable, easiest, and quickest ways to improve your security.

4 — Image (How does the product make your organization look?)

Your answer to this question might be, “Who cares, as long as we’re secure?”

There are two aspects of “Image” as a criterion when considering visitor management solutions. One, does the product literally “look good”? And, two, does the product convey the appearance of added security?

Most visitor management systems include a visitor badge of some kind. These range from a plain, generic badge that just says “visitor,” to a custom-printed badge with the facility’s logo and a color photo of the visitor. Custom-printed badges that contain a name and logo help to promote an organization’s “brand.” More important, from a security standpoint, they make it harder for intruders to falsify their identification. So employees, when they see a stranger wearing a custom visitor badge, can more safely assume that person has permission to be in the building.

Next:
Choosing a visitor management system — part 2: What do you want it to do?
Choosing a visitor management system — part 3: Not all badges are made alike

Also:
Pro's and Con's of a Manual Visitor Sign-In System
Pro's and Con's of an Electronic Visitor Management System

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Visitor Management Protocol should be updated regularly

Wednesday, May 20, 2015  by Paul Kazlauskas

Most companies, schools, and healthcare facilities have a procedure to sign-in visitors who come to their facility. It is a good security practice to document visitors so you know now, and months later, who was in your facility, for what purpose, and for how long. Visitor management protocols should be reviewed every few months to make sure they are accomplishing the goals they were intended for. Visitor management security tools are always evolving with new functionality. A tool that didn’t seem to fit a few months ago, might now be the perfect visitor management instrument for your facility.

A review of a facility’s visitor management protocols should be a set of questions that security personnel ask themselves. According to Silvia Consultants, an independent security consulting firm in Seattle, here are some questions that security professionals should ask themselves a few times per year…

• Just who at your facility can authorize a visitor to be on the premises? Can any employee sponsor a visitor, or must the visitor be sponsored by a supervisor or manager?
• During what hours can a visitor be brought on the premises? Is it OK for an employee to bring a visitor into the facility after-hours or on the weekends?
• Must visitors be escorted at all times by an employee? Which types of visitors are to be allowed unescorted access?
• Are there areas in the facility where visitors are not allowed? If so, where are these areas?
• Do visitors need to be issued safety equipment or to receive any special type of safety training?
• Are there any age restrictions on visitors? Can an employee bring his or her children into the facility as visitors?
• Are packages carried by visitors, including briefcases and purses, subject to inspection as the visitor enters or leaves the premises?

For the full article, including suggestions for effective visitor control procedures, click here. The above list contains just a snapshot of the possible questions security managers should ask themselves on a regular basis. If their current answers are different than they were a few months ago, then it may be time to look for a new visitor management solution.

Can you think of other important questions that security personnel should ask themselves on a regular basis? If so, please add them to the “Comments” section below.

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How using the Cloud improves Visitor Management Systems

Wednesday, May 13, 2015  by Paul Kazlauskas

Visitor management is all about knowing who is in any office building, school, or healthcare facility at any given time. Visitor management systems (VMS) provide an invaluable security service by registering visitors that come to a facility and allowing any organization the ability to access past records of any visitor. There are numerous types of visitor management systems available on the market with varying features and benefits. A popular trend with VMS providers is incorporating cloud computing for storage and access. There are major benefits to incorporating “the cloud” with visitor management systems.

Incorporating the cloud into your visitor management system allows for quick and easy access to data at any time, from virtually anywhere in the world. In addition, users have a great deal of flexibility when it comes to adding additional sites. Whether it be additional schools within a district, satellite facilities of a corporation, or healthcare facilities within the same health system, using the cloud for visitor management systems allows for quicker and more efficient additions of new locations to the overall network. When the VMS provider releases an updated version of the software, the facility is notified and offered a quick download/update. This service is very similar to how apps get updated on a smartphone.

Additional benefits can be attained if you use a leading cloud service provider such as Microsoft or Amazon. This can mean exceptional availability and reliability compared to smaller cloud providers. Plus, overall system downtime is much less when using a globally respected brand. Regardless of the provider you choose, make sure they offer high data encryption, exceptional system security, and the piece of mind knowing their services are spelled out and guaranteed within the service level agreements.

Data storage is another benefit of using the cloud. Providers offer different storage options, so in order to meet a facility’s needs, so it is important to do homework first. Businesses, schools, and healthcare facilities should choose a storage service that fits the nature and size of their data. Since servers do most of the work, the speed of the local computer is less critical.

Streamlined visitor management is yet another benefit of using the cloud for an organization’s visitor management system. Some systems offer visitors the ability to pre-register themselves for a visit to a location. Visitors are provided a link that is accessed on the web (no need to go through the organization’s network) where they can enter all pertinent information such as their name, date visiting, purpose of the visit, and their expected time of arrival. This functionality is similar to registering/printing your boarding passes the night before a flight. Once the visitor actually gets to the facility for their visit, their credentials can be ready and waiting for them. This pre-registration functionality eliminates possible long lines at the front desk if numerous visitors arrive at the same time. Any additional visitor agreements, such as waivers of liability and confidentiality agreements, can be incorporated into a visitor badge, pass, or credential as well.

Visitor management systems are very user-friendly and are simple to get up and running. After a quick install and some brief training, the facility is ready to begin using their visitor management system and are on their way to improving their facility security.

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How to correctly use a Visitor Management System

Wednesday, May 06, 2015  by Paul Kazlauskas

When an entrance to an office building, healthcare facility, or school isn’t secure, the facility is vulnerable and liable. A great way to help secure a facility’s entrance is to use a visitor management system to document all visitors. Visitor management is about controlling access and knowing who is in the building at any given time. Visitor management systems accomplish those goals, but it is imperative to use the tool correctly. Here are 4 steps to effectively use a visitor management system.

1) Capture the driver’s license information from every visitor.
Use a driver’s license reader to scan the visitor’s I.D. The scanner captures the name and driver’s license number in seconds. If the visitor is not a first time visitor and has been previously scanned in the system before, their information should be easily accessed and a new visitor badge printed in seconds. If the visitor is coming to the facility for the first time, a scan of the driver’s license captures all the necessary personal data for the visitor pass. Some systems can even capture the photo from the driver’s license. If the visitor management system doesn’t have the ability to capture the photo, a camera can be implemented to provide that functionality.

2) Capture additional information not on the driver’s license.
After scanning the driver’s license and collecting personal information about the visitor, the next step is to figure out why they are visiting your facility. It is important to document this type of information. Such important information includes who they are visiting, the purpose of the visit, and the type of visitor the person is (ex. vendor, contractor, volunteer, etc).

3) Print a visitor badge for the person to wear while at the facility.
Now that you have collected all the personal information and discovered why the person is visiting, the next step is to print the visitor pass for them to wear. A customized visitor badge, that includes a photo, clearly identifies the visitor. Be sure the visitor badge includes their name, where they are going, the date, and the time they arrived. It is recommended to include the facility name and/or logo as well. Doing this promotes your facility’s identity and makes it more noticeable if a person is trying to gain unlawful access with a generic badge.

4) Generate reports on your visitor data.
A critical component to a visitor management system, and a major reason why they are an upgrade over manual sign-in books, is the ability to analyze visitor data electronically. There is complete data on every visitor that has ever been to a facility and that data can be mined to identify trends. Most visitor management systems have the ability to generate custom reports and allow them to be shared with security personnel very easily. Besides the obvious security reasons for knowing who is in the building at any given time and knowing how long any visitor was in the facility, there are other non-security benefits for the visitor data. For example, visitor reports can be generated on outside contractors to verify arrival and departure times to ensure they have been on the job as specified.

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Data Management, Inc.

P.O. Box 789
Farmington, CT 06034

Phone 1.800.243.1969
Fax 1.800.428.1951
or 1.860.677.6767

www.datamanage.com
 
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