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Providing ID cards for visitors is easier and more necessary than ever

Chris Corum   ||   Jul 25, 2006  ||   , ,

Even in a post 9-11 world, college campuses remain fairly open. Anyone can enter the campus itself with barely a nod from security. Corporations are a different matter and many have hardened building access in recent years. So, too, have K-12 schools. But with more options and lower costs, is it now time for colleges to take another look at better controlling visitors to their campuses? Supporters of visitor management solutions think so.

“Colleges are watching ingress and egress better than they used to do,” said Steve Blake, director of secure systems for Fargo Electronics, whose printer/encoders are used in visitor ID management systems. “But adoption has been better for visitor management in K-12 than in post secondary schools.”

Had some kind of visitor management program been in effect at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, a university professor might have avoided being beaten up by people who easily gained access to the building housing the professor’s office, as recently reported by a Cape Town online news service.

It’s one of the tradeoffs for having an open campus, a quality in which most colleges take pride. But are those days numbered?

“(People are) implementing both unattended and attended visitor management systems,” explains Mr. Blake. “However, if you’re concerned about security, there is no reality to using an unattended system. I’ve been to several schools where you print out your own badge. It’s based on the honor system and it will work only for those who are honorable.”

Visitor management systems were in use even before 9-11. “They’ve been available for about seven years,” said Mr. Blake. “But there was a low level of adoption until the last couple of years. What has changed is that prices have come down to where they’re more affordable. New technology also makes it much easier to go through the registration and badging process.”

But it took “9-11 for visitor management (and other security systems) to skyrocket,” added Mr. Blake.

Some of the more popular visitor management programs are the ones that allow a visitor’s driver license to be swiped or scanned, thus providing a visitor’s critical information along with his picture. Then a temporary badge can be produced, usually in less than a minute, complete with photo.

“Driver license scanners can be tied to the software. A school clerk will take your driver license, run it through a scanner and be able to print a card with a Fargo printer in color or black and white, within 30 seconds,” said Mr. Blake. “This is what’s really driving the growth in visitor management. If anything happens, the school has the front and back of the visitor’s driver license.”

Despite the ease of creating visitor IDs, it could still be difficult for colleges to implement. “The issue is that with colleges, they tend to be an open environment with a lot of public access,” said Mr. Blake. “If you’re going to have attended locations for visitors you might have multiple points of issuance. Some (colleges) do use ID cards for visitors, but there hasn’t been a high level of adoption here.”

To date, the real adoption of visitor security has been in the corporate arena, Mr. Blake added.

Selecting a visitor management system from the host of options

Do a Google search on “visitor ID badge management” and nine different products show up on the first page alone.

Some of the bigger providers of visitor ID management software include Avery and Brady ID, plus “there are a lot of homegrown ones out there as well,” said Mr. Blake. Most work with ID card printers, but Avery’s for example also prints on paper labels.

Another aspect of visitor badge management is whether it will be standalone (located on a single computer) or tied to the network. Standalone architecture is obviously easier since all data resides on the PC at the front desk. But regardless of the system chosen, says Mr. Blake, implementation is simple. “You can be up and running in 30 minutes.”

Visitor management systems don’t require top-of-the-line printers to function adequately. “Our entry level printers tend to be the printer of choice for visitor management,” he said. “They contain just the features that are necessary. A visitor management solution typically doesn’t require high volume card production.”

Another consideration is how easy the visitor ID badge printer is to operate and maintain. “(Operators) need to be able to change ribbons and load the cards easily, so they can spend their time with people interaction, not printer interaction,” said Mr. Blake. “With our Persona C30 printer, for example, you can just pop the ribbon and cleaning cartridges in, unlike some printers where you have to deal with rolls of ribbons or cleaning rollers. Ease of use is extremely important. Operators can’t be afraid of what they’re about to use.”

Visitor management software has also evolved, said Mr. Blake. “They’ve migrated to include modules that are not only people-related, but will handle packages as well. For example, if UPS or FedEx delivers packages to the front desk, the software allows the packages to be logged in … right at the front door to create a history, an audit trail, of that package internally.”

With lower prices, more products from which to choose, and ease of use, “maybe it’s time for colleges to take another look at this,” said Mr. Blake. “There has been great adoption (and successes) elsewhere. This could be the time for colleges to examine how visitor ID management can benefit them.”

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