Today let's look at the notion of visitor screening and access control. There really are three important issues to be considered:
1. Does your school have an access control system such as a buzzer or other device that controls who comes into the building?
Post-Sandy Hook, this is increasingly a given in most schools. The vast majority of schools today have some sort of camera or buzzer-type system that requires visitors to be "buzzed in" or admitted into the building. While access control is critical, remember that the buzzer system at Sandy Hook Elementary was easily breached by the intruder. The problem here isn't just whether or not your school has a buzzer system, but how effectively that access control is implemented beyond just the purchase of hardware.
2. Have staff members received training in effectively screening and engaging with visitors and have they taken ownership of those responsibilities?
A buzzer system is only an effective security measure if there are adequate secondary defense systems in place. Staff members who are responsible for engaging and screening visitors using the buzzer system should have adequate training to be able to determine who has a legitimate purpose in the school and who is a potentially violent intruder as well as how to respond to such a threat.
Staff members should also be trained to actively engage with visitors who are in the building to detect potential intruders. Every staff member has a responsibility to greet and engage with visitors to the school regardless of their position or who the visitor is.
3. Do access control problems in the daily operation of the school compromise the existing buzzer system?
The best access control system in the world is rendered useless if an intruder can easily enter the building through propped open doors, unlocked entrances, or when let in by unsuspecting students or staff. Maintaining a secure facility is another crucial second line of defense. Do not be lulled into a false sense of security that "We have a buzzer system, so we don't need to be concerned about security."
A concerned parent in a Connecticut middle school made the news this week with what he discovered at his daughter's school and their lack of access control: http://www.nbcconnecticut.com/news/local/East-Haven-Father-Arrested-After-Walking-Into-Daughters-Middle-School-228874191.html.
Parents and community members are welcome additions to a school and are vital school stakeholders. In addition, we are running schools, not prisons. That being said - not every person who comes into your school should have free and unencumbered access to every part of the "public" school. The challenge is to be a welcoming environment for those who are visiting our schools while at the same time presenting a significant deterrent for those with malicious or violent intent. An access control system combined with a well trained staff can effectively accomplish these seemingly incongruous objectives.
For more information on visitor engagement training for staff members, visit our website at www.eschoolsafety.org.