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SecurityWorld Online Magazine

CCTV Surveillance

Access Control

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Integration & Convergence

Access Control

VISITOR MANAGEMENT SYSTEM: Rectifying a Chink in the Armor

The investment made in providing security to prevent intruders from gaining entry by force out-of-hours may be compromised by the failure to adequately address visitor handling procedures.

Photo by BSIA

The need for protection of access points into a site or building is generally understood.  However, its easy to overlook the potentially significant security risks posed by visitors, who may be able to gain entry to a premises relatively easily.  Alex Carmichael of the British Security Industry Association explains how this chink in the armor can be rectified using a Visitor Management System (VMS) and describes the resulting security, health and safety, insurance and other benefits.


By Alex Carmichael



Do you really know who can gain access to your facility, who has been in and out over the last week/month/year, who they met, why they were there and how many times they have re-visited?  If not, the measures currently in place for handling visitors are likely to require review.  Why is this information important?  Well, the reasons for being able to audit the various types of visitor encountered include the need to restrict certain visitors’smovement in vulnerable or sensitive areas of the site, be able to carry out an instant check of who is inside the facility in an emergency situation, and identify who went where in the event of an incident occurring so that law enforcement authorities can successfully prosecute where appropriate.  In the modern commercial environment, appropriate and adequate access control over visitor movements is required to protect the business’ staff, premises, stock and assets.  The investment made in providing security to prevent thieves, intruders, vandals and arsonists from gaining entry by force out-of-hours -- using a mix of perimeter protection, Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) surveillance, physical security, intruder alarms and other methods  -- may be compromised by the failure to adequately address visitor handling procedures.




To identify what you require from the wide range of quality systems available from BSIA member companies, let’s begin by looking at the range of visitors any site may need to handle, depending on its scale and complexity.  A visitor is defined as more than simply someone arriving for a meeting with a member of staff they can also include suppliers, delivery personnel, contractors and maintenance workers, all of whom may be processed through a separate entrance and have different arrangements to other types of visitor who arrive via the main reception point.  These other types of visitor may include temporary staff, staff arriving from other company sites, sales representatives, service crews called in to repair broken equipment, clients and even VIPs.

Whatever the type or seniority of the visitor, it’s clearly important to have established and uniformly applied procedures in place to be able to greet all of them, obtain, log and validate their details, track their movements during their time on-site and sign them out when leaving.  But these measures are also needed in order to meet legislative and insurance-related requirements.  For example, the implications of public liability insurance arrangements, as well as the health and safety of both staff and visitors.

The uptake of visitor management systems in the U.K., for instance, has been driven by the introduction of health and safety laws which impose a common ‘duty of care’ principle towards every type of visitor -- whether invited or not.  Companies can face a civil lawsuit from a visitor able to prove a breach of that duty, with resulting injury or damage, while non-compliance can also leave an organization open to a possible criminal prosecution, with serious fines and prison sentences as penalties for individuals held responsible as a result of consent, neglect, act or omission.




One of the health and safety requirements is that any employer of more than five people must undertake a formal risk assessment and this is a sensible first step before specifying any security system.  This procedure may identify that a smaller site is suited to the use of a paper-based or manual VMS.  As a replacement for simple signing-in books used to record on-site visits, this entry level type of VMS would include the issuing of temporary passes, or badges, which in itself sends out a message to any visitor that the organization they’re dealing with takes its responsibilities seriously.  It also enables on-site staff to more easily recognize a visitor, assist them if required and report any suspicious behavior they may observe.

Simpler paper-based systems offer cost-effective benefits for smaller businesses handling relatively low volumes of visitors.  However, these manual registers are unable to interface with either the other security systems being used or the company’s IT infrastructure.  They’re, therefore, unable to form part of a holistic approach to site security, and for larger organizations there are additional advantages on offer from more sophisticated electronic or computerized VMS.

Electronic visitor management is now one of the fastest growing areas of the market, with interest focused on a variety of extra features and added value benefits, including the ability of staff to interact with the system.  For instance, they can email the reception desk with details of their anticipated guest, book appointments and reserve meeting rooms plus relevant audio/visual equipment  -- without needing to even move from their desk.  The ease of use has the additional benefit of ensuring better staff ’buy into the system, once they can see how practically useful it is in a variety of ways.  The check-in process for arriving visitors can be streamlined, too, with speedy but more effective procedures implemented which enable the reception point to be established as the first line of defence.

Biometric systems can be linked in so that badges issued to visitors are, for instance, able to include a digital photo, barcode and fingerprint information.  This level of detailed information provides a much improved ‘audit trail’ of who has been admitted, as well as enabling the access control system to restrict visitor entry to identified points within the site.  Each visitor’s access can also be controlled by elevator floor, area, date and time.

The VMS can additionally be used to reduce workplace hazards by keeping unauthorized personnel out of high risk areas.  Time spent on-site by the visitor can be pre-defined to specified periods and this level of monitoring is also useful for immediately checking who is inside the facility in an emergency, such as fire breaking out.  Rescue services can then be quickly provided with an accurate roll-call in printed format.




By interfacing an electronic VMS with other security and building management systems, visitor movements can be ‘tagged’, enabling their real-time movements to be traced through controlled points in a building.  Moreover, their actions can be monitored and recorded via CCTV surveillance, with CCTV cameras able to be pre-programmed to provide pre-and post-entry images of any visitor at given points such as access doors.  The use of electronic VMS as part of an integrated security solution can additionally allow their interaction with Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) software.  Video clips or photos can be ‘imported’ to the VMS and stored along with the visitor’s other details, providing, for instance, a visual record of a maintenance company worker’s time on-site.  This further assists record keeping and the security/facility manager’s ability to identify and link vehicles with specific individuals.  That information can be used to automatically alarm if an individual suspected of involvement in suspicious activities, or their vehicle, returns to the site on another day.

It’s important when introducing this additional functionality to consider the data protection implications and ensure that proper safeguards are in place to protect the personal data gathered during the visitor enrollment process to ensure compliance with relevant legislation.




Most visitor management systems will link to other systems, including equipment used for both security and building management functions.  This introduces the concept of total security management by linking all facilities management into one system.  To give one practical example, a visitor badge can be programmed to activate the access control system to enable entry and then permit the visitor to use the elevator to reach the designated floor for their pre-arranged meeting.

The revolution in technological innovation, combined with falling equipment prices, means that the future potential for VMS capabilities, both stand-alone and increasingly in combination with other site systems, is enormous. 

Therefore, as a specification process, it is better to think in terms of what you require a VMS to do now and in the future.  The use of modular software construction means that systems can be extended and upgraded to meet tomorrow’s requirements, often without the need for expensive modifications.  This also makes them scaleable, so they can operate, for example, over several buildings from a single networked PC. 


Alex Carmichael is Technical and Membership Services Director of BSIA (  The British Security Industry Association is the trade association covering all aspects of the professional security industry in the U.K.  Its 570+ members provide over 70% of U.K. security products and services and adhere to strict quality standards. 


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