school access control

Best Practices for Access Control at Schools and Colleges

There are plenty of elements that come together to make up a comprehensive school security plan. Visitor badges, visitor escort procedures, and even emergency lockdown drills are all important.

However, one fundamental component of school security happens long before anyone has stepped inside the school building: Access control.

Access control means securing the perimeter of the school’s property, including each point of entry. Effective access control policies will ensure that students, staff, and visitors will know exactly where to enter your facility, what to do once they get inside, and how to get back out.

Good access control can go a long way toward keeping potential criminals out of your school. It also sets the tone for the rest of your other security efforts. A secure entry clarifies right away that your school takes safety and security seriously.

Here are some of the best practices schools can use to control access to their facilities.

Clear, Distinct Perimeters

As you begin to think about access control, it may help to picture your campus as a series of concentric circles, with the outside ring being the entire school grounds and other circles for the outside of the school building, a ring for each of the interior rooms, and even rings for certain specific assets within the rooms, in a locked cabinet, for example. (After all, security isn’t just about violence; schools have plenty of expensive equipment and sensitive assets that criminals may target.)

Although you will need to think about security efforts for each one of these layers, one of the first things to do is make sure that those lines are drawn not just metaphorically, but visually and perhaps physically.

Although most schools won’t need to take extreme measures (such as a barbed wire fences or security gates), it should be clear to anyone when they’ve passed through each of these “rings.” They should know when they have officially stepped onto school property, and again when they’ve stepped into each increasingly private area, from the outside vestibule to the lobby and then into the school itself.

These perimeters may be accomplished with fences, barriers, signs, lines, doors, and even landscaping.

This eliminates any potential for confusion and sends a message: the school is aware of who is supposed to be within each of those areas.

Good Entryway Visibility

Some of the most effective security techniques are relatively inexpensive and make the most intuitive sense. These include keeping entry areas well-lit and free of hiding spaces.

Remove any landscaping or other obstacles that prevent a clear line of vision around entryways.

Better visibility gives officials a clear line of vision to spot threats. Clear, open spaces are also less attractive to potential criminals.

Well-placed security cameras can also enhance “visibility” for potential entry points that are not personally manned. This is helpful for any part of the school that you want to keep secure, and may include focusing on problem areas like roofs and basements.

These tactics fall into the category of ”natural surveillance” or “natural access control,” which themselves fall under the umbrella of “Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED).” A quick web search for CPTED will yield plenty of informative results with more helpful tactics for your school.

Well-Defined Entry Routes

The route that visitors take to enter your school should not be left to chance. Without careful planning, the route could be confusing for visitors and indicate that you’re not taking security seriously enough.

This Athletic Business column by former school sports equipment and bleacher inspector Tim Philippart notes that without a clearly marked entry route, “a visitor might find himself anywhere in the building — a hallway crowded with students passing from one class to another, for example.”

A well-defined entry route usually begins with well-marked visitor parking spaces, ideally in a lot separate from the student and faculty lots. From there, the visitors should be given a clear, simple route to the visitor entrance. Campus design can take advantage of things like landscaping and walkways to funnel visitors into a controlled, visible area.

Complementary signage should make it absolutely clear to visitors how to get to the main office from the parking lot and from any other relevant entry points.

Limited Access Points

One of the most basic parts of keeping unwanted people off campus is to limit where they can easily come in.

Doing a simple, personal safety assessment by physically walking around outer and inner perimeters can be a great first step in identifying potential problems. You may decide to replace certain access points that cannot be easily monitored, or add gates and locks to certain entrances to limit their use.

Emergency exits are an important part of emergency evacuation routes. However, emergency exits can also become a threat when they are left unsecured, allowing people to enter the building without checking in through the main office. To make sure doors stay shut unless there’s an emergency (or to make sure that they’re used exclusively for exit purposes) schools can employ cameras, alarms, and a strict disciplinary code.

A Secure Lobby Area

Security can also be integrated into school lobby design.

For example, secure lobbies might employ physical barriers that make it more difficult for visitors to get through the lobby area quickly or without authorization. The front desk can be oriented to give staff optimal visibility of the entry area.

Many schools, especially in the K-12 range, are also using entry vestibules as an added security measure. These are smaller entry rooms that visitors must pass through before entering the staffed main office. With secure-entry vestibules, visitors cannot enter the main office until they’ve been authorized by the main office staff. They can use speakers to contact the main office staff, who can then decide whether to unlock the doors to let them in. These entry vestibules often have glazed glass walls to enable front desk staff to get a clear view of any visitors.

Data Collection and Pattern Analysis

Every school has unique security needs. Threats and regulations will vary with a school’s unique infrastructure, student body, and geographic location.

The best security efforts always go much deeper than making sure doors remain locked. As this Campus Safety Magazine article points out, much of security has to do with “understanding and controlling patterns.” Your school’s security team can collaborate with security and law enforcement professionals to analyze the habits of the people who tend to “flow through” the facility to make sure the security plan is effective and doesn’t have any holes.

The best security efforts always go much deeper than making sure doors remain locked. #receptionistapp Share on X

One great way to help gather the visitor data that can help you and your team analyze these patterns is to use visitor management software like The Receptionist.

Our tablet-based visitor check-in system lets staff create customized check-in procedures for each type of visit. Administrators can run detailed reports on visit data, filtering and sorting for patterns in visitor timing, visit type, and more. The Receptionist can even print visitor badges — complete with photos — automatically as part of the check-in process. It also gives your office staff real-time visitor lists, which can be essential during an emergency evacuation.

Click here to learn how The Receptionist can work for schools, or click here to try a free 14-day trial of The Receptionist.

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