Security Hot Spot: Protecting Reception Areas

Mar 1, 2004 12:00 PM, By James Gompers


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It's really easy to overlook lobbies and reception areas when it comes to designing and implementing an overall security strategy. After all, security officials have become so focused on protecting what's inside and at the core of their facilities, that they often neglect what's in front of them — the entryways. Balancing the right environment with the right mix of security is definitely not an easy task, but one that can be mastered.

As new threats present themselves and intruders become craftier, more proactive security measures are necessary to protect the front lines of business. It can no longer be assumed that security is something implemented once and then forgotten — or that it is solely the responsibility of one department.

This article looks at the various measures and best practices for lobby and reception area security, including different types of technology and a look at a real-life scenario in which integrated security technology is leveraged to help meet short- and long-term security goals.

Policies and procedures

Defining and implementing policies and procedures that are tailored specifically to your security environment can go a long way in keeping lobbies and reception areas secure. Here are some general strategies:

  • Provide proper training

    Developing a comprehensive security training program for all employees is one of the most important security measures an organization can deploy. The training is especially critical for front-line staff, such as security guards and receptionists, so they have a sophisticated understanding of the potential risks and vulnerabilities associated with their work areas, and know proper emergency procedures.

  • Restrict the flow of traffic into a facility

    Even something as simple as a turnstile — a type of gate that allows only one person to pass per rotation — can help significantly to manage the flow of traffic into a facility. Another way to restrict the flow of traffic is to limit access to the facility with only one or two entry/exit points that can be closely monitored.

  • Enforce that visitors wear badges

    A badge offers temporary identification and may include, for example, the visitor's name, date, time and the person they are seeing. They can either be low-tech (handwritten sticky badges) or high-tech (a professional print-out with color photo).

  • Ensure visitors are not left alone

    It may not be possible to be at a visitor's side at all times, but, when possible, guests should not be left alone. Not only is this a polite gesture, it is also a proactive security measure. The receptionist should also try to stay in the reception area while a visitor is waiting. If the receptionist must leave for any reason, it's important that they find someone else who can sit at the front desk while they are away.

Leveraging security technology for maximum safety and security

Adhering to corporate policies and procedures is an important step to securing lobbies and reception areas, but it's also important to leverage security technology for maximum safety and security. Whether restricting access to a facility or tracking visitors' whereabouts, advanced security solutions can help get the job done.

A few examples:

  • Optical turnstiles can be easily be integrated with electronic access control systems for maximum security. The turnstiles control the flow of traffic, eliminate “piggy-backing” and provide an accurate count of who is in a facility. Optical turnstiles can also add a high-tech modern look to a lobby or reception area.

  • Visitor management systems take visitor security beyond simple guest books. When visitors electronically scan their ID (driver's license or business card), all relevant information about them is automatically captured in a database, and a high-quality badge is printed. Some solutions even allow users to maintain a list of names and photos of people who are either not welcome or should be treated with special attention.

  • Radio Frequency Identification, or RFID is essentially an electronic barcode. While RFID has traditionally been used to track and manage inventory, it has recently been adapted for visitor management. A basic RFID system, which consists of an antenna or coil, a transceiver and a transponder (RF tag), transmits a stored code from a chip to a reader without direct contact or line-of-sight scanning. RFID can be integrated into a visitor badging system to ensure that visitors only travel where they are authorized to go. RFID visitor badging solutions also ensure that badges are returned before guests leave the facility.

  • IP-based video surveillance enables security personnel to quickly and efficiently access and share information whenever necessary. It can be integrated with other security systems, such as biometric and access control technology to protect key areas, including lobbies and reception areas.

  • Chemical and biological detection solutions enable organizations to take immediate protective measures against chemical or biological agents. Access control manufacturers are steadily integrating these solutions into their building control and management suites, allowing the system to shut down air handlers, contain contaminates and help evacuate personnel.

Tying it all together: Lobby security made easy

An example: A Fortune 1000 company had traditionally taken a very relaxed approach to security. While it upgraded its access control solution and added additional video cameras to the exterior of the building, the company seemed to do just the bare minimum to protect its property and personnel. After a series of major security problems, including bomb threats and theft, however, the company decided to take a closer look at its overall security program.

A comprehensive security assessment and audit, revealed that the lobby was the greatest source of vulnerability. In addition to numerous entry/exit points, the company did not have an asset protection or visitor management solution in place, nor did it have integrated systems for effective security.

The initial solution was to limit access to the facility by forcing employees to enter and exit through the main reception/lobby area or through the rear employee entrance near shipping and receiving. Security stations were placed in both areas and optical turnstiles were installed to control access, direct visitors past the reception and security area for closer inspection and provide an accurate count of personnel in the facility.

Next, the company integrated a visitor management and asset management solution with RFID technology. RFID transceivers were installed in all elevator lobbies as well as entry/exit points and connection points between buildings. The RFID tags enabled simultaneous tracking of both visitors and assets. Elevator control, HVAC and the fire alarm system were then incorporated into a single graphical user interface (GUI) using a middleware suite that enabled all systems to share information. The single GUI allowed the company to streamline training, maximize productivity and, more importantly, reduce costs.

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