Visitor Management Systems Help Utilities Protect People and Assets

Utilities are required to monitor and report who enters their generation operations and other critical facilities, which generally requires implementing a professional visitor management system. Many of the country's leading utilities use secure visitor management software to quickly badge large numbers of contractors and other visitors at their plant facilities.

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By Howard Marson

Utilities are required to monitor and report who enters their generation operations and other critical facilities, which generally requires implementing a professional visitor management system. Many of the country's leading utilities use secure visitor management software to quickly badge large numbers of contractors and other visitors at their plant facilities. This software also can be used to control costs by monitoring the time and attendance of contractors who are working on-site during scheduled and unscheduled plant outages. Other uses for visitor management systems include screening out unwanted contractors at job sites and generating reports to analyze visitor activity. There are a number of important best practices to consider when implementing visitor management solutions so that they can support the special requirements of utilities and other critical infrastructure environments.

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Unlike corporate and other facilities, utility operations are subject to tighter regulations for monitoring and reporting visits by contractors and other guests who have entered their generating or operating plants. In general, utilities and other critical infrastructure companies are required to account for all contractors and other visitors to their facilities. This is more complicated than it sounds, especially when there may be hundreds or thousands of contractors on site during planned and unplanned plant shutdowns. And, a typical large electric utility might have a dozen office buildings, or more, and at least as many electric generating plants throughout their organization. Visitor registration and management software allows utility operations to comply with federal access monitoring and reporting regulations across all of these facilities, while also screening contractors and visitors against government denied party lists, such as terrorist watch lists-helping improve cost and efficiency.

A key consideration for visitor management solutions is that they are easy to integrate with access control systems. This improves flexibility and security by enabling the utility to provide barcode or proximity card access to guests so they can open doors, turnstiles, elevators and other locked areas that are controlled by the access control system. With this approach, each visitor may use his or her card to enter some areas but not others based on each area's security level and whether the visitor has been granted access permission through the access control system. The visitor management system can also issue long-term badges with barcode access to expedite contractor check-in/check-out time during multi-day projects.

Another consideration in choosing a visitor management system is cost. In addition to improving visitor security, these systems can also be used to control costs by better monitoring and controlling contractors working at their facilities. The system, for example, can be used to monitor contractor time and attendance by matching the contractor's sign-in and check-out times. During facility outages there can be hundreds or thousands of additional contractors on site, but, with a visitor management system in place, utilities have a reliable mechanism for keeping track of who was there, for what period of time, and whether they were also working at other plants. This can be especially useful for validating the hours contractors claim to have worked, prior to paying them.

There are many other system features that should be included to tailor a visitor management solution to specific utility needs. Convenience is improved, for example, if the system can manage both guests and contractors, and if there is a Web-based option for allowing employees to pre-register guests they know will be arriving. And, the system should automatically notify employees when their guests have arrived and are waiting for them in the lobby. This eliminates the need for the lobby attendant to call each employee, each time a visitor arrives.

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In addition to badging authorized visitors, the system also should be capable of screening out undesirable temporary workers and flagging workers who should be denied access to other facilities. When it's time for authorized visitors to leave the facility, utilities that have issued barcodes on their visitor badges should be able to complete the check-out process by simply having their lobby attendants scan the barcode on the guest's departure. This is especially helpful in busy lobbies or at exit gates, where barcode scanning can significantly accelerate this procedure.

Besides managing visitors, the system also should have the necessary feature set to manage assets and packages that are delivered to facilities. For utilities where guests and contractors will be arriving at an unattended lobby, the system should be capable of operating in stand-alone mode, enabling visitors to pick up their proximity cards from a kiosk. All visitor badges should employ a consistent design across all of the utility's facilities, using a distinct and easy-to-identify color-coding scheme that indicates which visitors need to be escorted and which do not. Utilities should have the option of including various elements on their badges, such as a color photo, a bar code for easy check-out and emergency contact information.

In addition, visitor management systems should be easy for utility lobby attendants to use. With a few simple mouse clicks, the operator should be able to scan a visitor's license and print a professional visitor badge, which can include the visitor's photo and other elements, in less than 20 seconds.

Utilities are under increasing pressure to improve security and business operations while reducing costs and complying with government monitoring and reporting requirements. By implementing a feature-rich visitor management system that can be integrated with their existing access control system, utilities can better monitor and control temporary contractors and other guests while meeting the full range of cost, security and regulatory requirements.


About the author: Howard Marson is the vice president and general manager for EasyLobby, an HID Global business. With more than 30 years of industry experience, Marson is responsible for the overall management and strategic planning of HID Global's visitor management solutions portfolio. Prior to joining EasyLobby, Marson held various executive-level management positions for a number of different software and high-tech companies, including CSC/Index, Phoenix Technologies and Connected Corp. Marson received his Bachelor of Science degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and earned his Masters degree from the Sloan School of Management at MIT.

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