Visitor Lobby Management Systems

by | Feb 26, 2011

Why does my lobby need a Visitor Management System?

There are several Visitor Lobby Management Systems on the market today from which to choose, but how do you know which visitor management solution is right for your organization and whether or not you need one?

Many organizations, large and small, whether private organizations or a government agency, still utilize the old black book sign-in log at their reception desk. It’s a staple at many a front desk lobby for check in processes, and it amazes me sometimes why these organizations even bother to have a sign-in procedure when they only see several visitors in a week and obviously don’t use the records generated for any follow-up or real purpose.

Regardless of the number of visitors an organization experiences, employing a Visitor Lobby Management System accomplishes several objectives. 

A Visitor Lobby System creates added protection through increased accountability for non-employees who enter your facility and are exposed to your operations. This results in heightened awareness for staff to be vigilant in protecting the organization’s people, assets, and resources.

Visitors understand that their presence at the facility is a privilege whether they will be in a public zone or private zones.

A Visitor Lobby System creates a permanent, easy-to-audit electronic record of who is coming in and out of your facility, when these visits are taking place, as well as who within the organization is being visited.

The lobby is your first line of defense.  It is the single most important security point in any building or facility where protection of personnel and property is required.  Security for your business begins in your lobby and sets the tone for the entire organization. Therefore, the right lobby access control system is crucial.

A Visitor Lobby Management System is the most secure process for a lobby guard or receptionist to authorize a visit.  An automated system, used properly and effectively by lobby personnel, will significantly heighten facility security and process visitors quickly.

In addition to strengthening facility security, visitor management systems also:

• Improve productivity — Visitors are pre-registered electronically, and multiple visitors can be processed simultaneously, which can save time. The system can be integrated with the facility’s existing email system, as well as other business and security systems. It also can be used to set up meetings and attendee lists.

• Enhance your image — Badges are professionally done, and visitors are processed efficiently and professionally, eliminating large waiting lines in the lobby.

• Improve visitor service — Because they are pre-registered or can be registered quickly, visitors are made to feel expected and welcome.

• Control resources — The system can track assets and deliveries and provide traffic reports for resource planning.

• Enhance emergency response — If the building must be evacuated, the system can be used to determine the presence and location of visitors within the facility.

Design of a Visitor Lobby Management System

Check-in of visitors should be quick and simple for the visitor(s), the employee hosting the visitor(s) and the front desk personnel facilitating the process. How you accomplish this is ultimately a policy decision. We generally like to work directly with management or an executive management committee to best arrive at this decision. There are several options to consider when crafting your visitor management policies.

Initially, one can still utilize a sign-in sheet to allow the visitor to fill in the necessary information. Once this is complete, the receptionist or security personnel can manually enter the information into a basic visitor management software program and notify hosts. If desired, a non-disclosure agreement could be signed by the visitor at this time as well. This initial “upgrade” is probably the least expensive and most closely represents the little black book sign-in system while adding a permanent, searchable electronic record of visitors and who they are visiting. This option also represents the least costly solution to implement and provides a relatively easy transition with staff when implementing a lobby security system.

The most popular visitor check system we implement incorporates a drivers license/business card scanner. This scanner is connected to a PC and communicates with the visitor management software. As the visitor’s license or card is scanned, the necessary information is extracted from the card and populates the corresponding fields in the software. The visitors drivers license photo can also be captured at this time. The photo can be printed on a visitor badge or retained in the database to provide a photo record for future use. Using a scanner in this manner is the most efficient process to quickly process visitors entering the lobby who have not been pre-registered. Some companies also choose to use a physical security device, such as optical turnstiles, in addition to card scanners as an added security measure.

For larger organizations, a Visitor Pre-Registration System allows visitors to be pre-registered through an internal intranet website. This is setup on a company network and accessed by all employees via a web browser. Visitors can be registered in advance of their visit, and most software will also generate an email confirmation which is sent to the visitor, providing them confirmation of the meeting and directions to the facility they are visiting. If a large meeting with a group of people is taking place, one can quickly pre-register multiple people without key stroking everyone in one by one by simply importing a CSV or Microsoft Excel file.

Other considerations in designing and employing a Visitor Lobby System include, but are not limited to: 

  • Is a non-disclosure or safety policy acceptance disclaimer required to be signed?
  • Are there multiple entrances and/or exits the visitor can travel through, or is each visitor to be funneled in and out of one location?  Should multiple locations be the case, an enterprise-level system that tracks visitors through multiple areas may be needed.
  • Is the visitor required to check out of the facility to confirm present visitors on the property, and for headcount auditing in the case of an emergency?
  • Badge design, placing a barcode on the badge allows for a quick scan at the exit to check out the visitor from the facility.  Will a photo be included on the badge?  What type of visitor badge material will be used?  Choices range from a simple Avery label to self-expiring visitor ID badges that change color or allow for a red “expired” to bleed through the front of the badge.  How do we handle visitors who are onsite and require an access badge?  Software plug-ins for most systems include the ability to interface with the company access control software so an access card badge for longer-term visitors can be produced at the check-in station.
  • Watch Lists: A watch list can serve a variety of purposes.  Past employees who are no longer allowed on the premises can be listed.  In a school environment parents who may have issues with custody or restraining orders can be listed.  On a positive note, the watch list can be used as a red star file to alert the receptionist of any special visitors or VIPs.  In government facilities the visitor management software can easily be linked to the latest FBI watch list or other databases maintained with non-desirables or known threats to a facility.

For your consideration:

• An armed suspect walked into Washington, D.C., police headquarters and shot and killed three people, including two FBI agents. A jury awarded $1.7 million to the husband of one of the slain agents. The reason? They determined that the facility should have had a better visitor sign-in system and other safeguards in place.

• Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma Federal Building terrorist bomber, reportedly conducted preliminary walkthroughs of the Murrah Building’s ground floor before perpetrating his attack. Other would-be terrorists are likely to attempt to case buildings before an attack. Effective lobby security can prevent this.

• A jury awarded $10 million against a security firm that supplied a guard for a building lobby. The guard did nothing while three loiterers in the lobby harassed a tenant and then shot him six times, leaving him paralyzed.

A properly designed and managed Visitor Lobby Management System must be in place that supports security physically, electronically, and procedurally. Visitor Lobby Management Systems are an integral element of the total security for a building and for an organization.  To best determine what level and function are best for your company, the development of registration policies and procedures for visitors is the first step to arriving at the most efficient and professional process to fit your organization.  Visitor management is about controlling access, knowing who’s in the building, and making employees accountable for their visitors.  A visitor management system that utilizes software tools and ID validation, combined with physical barriers and a well-designed lobby, will aid in keeping the wrong people out while letting the right people in, quickly and efficiently.

Campbell Wright, CPP is the owner and operator of SoCal Access and Video