Posts Tagged ‘workplace security’

Security at the Front Door – Updated

Friday, February 9th, 2018

Empty roomYou walk through the door of a small business and into the reception area. Surprise! There’s no one in sight! You stand there for a while, then call out: Hello?  Hello?

You have just witnessed a BIG security breach!

Since most workplace violence happens as a result of a robbery attempt, that empty business has certainly encouraged any would-be robber. And whoever comes next into that reception area will be the prime target.

Role of the receptionist in business security

As receptionist, you may consider yourself a customer service representative. That may, in fact, be what your job description stresses.

But you are also the gatekeeper.

Let’s look at some questions you should be asking as you consider taking a job as receptionist. And if you’re the employer, what YOU should be thinking about for that position. It’s a key one.

1-Is your workplace particularly vulnerable?

Some jobs have a higher risk than others. For example, do you . . .

  • Deal with cash or other particularly valuable property? (ex. bank)
  • Deliver or exchange passengers or packages? (ex. hotel)
  • Encounter unstable people (i.e. in law enforcement, health care)?
  • Work alone or with just a small group of co-workers?
  • Work late at night?

The most at risk times for office thefts are early morning, lunch hours, and around closing time, particularly on Fridays or holidays. Is your reception area staffed by just one person during those times? What happens when that person needs to go to the bathroom?

2-Is your reception area laid out in the best way possible for security?

Generally, the receptionist should have a clear view of the entrance, and be able to see everyone in the lobby area. By the same token, good visibility lets the receptionist and other employees be aware of suspicious activities taking place outside.

Good visibility includes keeping doors and windows clear of signs, keeping the cash register in a central place where it can be seen from the outside, and keeping counter tops and displays low so no one can sneak in and hide. And, of course, visibility is improved with good lighting.

Note: if your receptionist deals with cash deliveries, consider a bolted down DROP safe that allows envelopes to be deposited without the safe door being unlocked. Such a secure safe might cost only a couple hundred dollars – and it’s designed for efficient transactions and to keep someone from trying to fish the money back out!

These two drop safe examples from Amazon show different configurations, with costs ranging from just over $100 to around $300, depending on features and size. Amazon also offers expert installation for an additional price. Click on the images for full details and current prices.

3-Are there any physical restrictions on who comes into the lobby and who goes through into the rest of the work area?

Is there a desk or other barrier between the receptionist and visitors? Does the receptionist “buzz” people in from outside or do they just walk right in? Obviously, in a restaurant or retail outlet, as in the picture above, the entrance will not only be unobstructed, doors are likely to be wide open. In an office, however, you’d expect some sort of formal reception area or lobby.

Do staff members and visitors use an electronic keypad or key to get through the lobby into the work area, or are they buzzed through by the receptionist?

4-What responsibilities does the receptionist have for security?

An “entry level” job may be what is being advertised, but as a receptionist you need to know answers to security questions like these:

  • Does the receptionist greet everyone? Keep written or electronic track of who arrives and who leaves, and when? Do you use Visitor ID badges?
  • What policies are in place for regular visitors (vendors) and family members? Does staff insist on identification from repairpersons?
  • Does the receptionist know about any people who are prohibited from entering?
  • Does the receptionist have a map of the property with rooms and escape routes marked, in order to assist First Responders who may arrive in an emergency?

Another question to add to the above: Are temps or subs made aware of all these responsibilities?

5-Does your front entrance have visible surveillance equipment? 

We’ve all seen them from time to time: wide-angle mirrors placed in strategic locations to eliminate blind areas.

And more and more we are seeing both outdoor and indoor cameras placed as an effective deterrent to shady or criminal activity; posting a sign adds to the effect of the cameras. Some people even mount fake cameras for the deterrent effect, although experienced criminals can tell the difference. (After an incident has occurred, of course, cameras are only useful if they are real, and monitored.)

So the question then becomes, if cameras are installed, how are they monitored? From the front desk? From another location?

6-What about perimeter security?

A comprehensive security system might also send an alarm if doors and/or windows are unexpectedly broken or opened. The system shown below, less than $200 at Amazon, is an example of such a system appropriate for a small business.

Note the console, magnetic locks for doors and smaller ones for windows, the siren and, the “key fob” (red button) that serves as a portable panic button. For about $15 each you can add extra fobs to this system. Employees can monitor the system as they move about, which allows the control console to be placed out of sight. (Click on the image to get full details and current prices at Amazon.)

7-Have you established any internal policies for managing a hostile situation?

Has your receptionist received training on how to handle difficult people or threats?

Does the receptionist have a “panic button?” (That remote fob, mentioned above? Or a built in button?)

Do you have a “code word” that would let someone know a dangerous situation has developed?

How would you let all workers know there is an emergency situation at the front entrance?

Good suggested answers to all these questions are available online and through professional training. Keep reading for some resources!

What’s the next step for your business?

The questions in this Advisory are meant to stimulate a more thorough discussion.

  • If you’re the potential (or current receptionist) you will have a better idea of what you might want in the way of improved security.
  • If you’re the business owner, you’ll have a better idea of steps to take, too.

Here are some resources.

We have seen incredible TV footage of ordinary people handling dangerous situations with aplomb and skill. However, the rest of us need training for these situations. Many qualified programs are available. For example:

  • Local police may offer security assessment and training for business owners, managers or HR professionals in your area. For example, some of the tips in this article came from the Portland Police Bureau.
  • Department of Homeland Security offers free courses, materials, and workshops, particularly for schools and school employees.
  • The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) offers specialized training for health workers, hospital administrators, etc. Here’s the link to the complete list:
  • YouTube and Vimeo have dozens of free training videos available for your use. Just type in the keywords “violence in the workplace” to see what comes up.
  • Commercial training organizations such as Fred Pryor, HR Seminars and SkillPath offer seminars either online or in locations around the country.

Your business insurance carrier may be a good resource, too. And security preparations may reduce your insurance premium.

“But our business is different.”

Every business is different. That’s why every business requires a CUSTOMIZED plan for security. Consider getting help from a security consultant if you have questions.

But don’t put it off. Every business has a legal duty and a moral obligation to provide a safe workplace.

Take the time now to consider what you can do at your workplace to increase the chances of preventing or lessening the chances of a dangerous situation at the front door.

Disclaimer: We’re not police or security professionals so the information here, while we believe it to be authoritative, is not guaranteed for accuracy and legality. Also, please be aware that laws and regulations vary from state to state – so get advice from your own First Responders.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

If security is something you’re interested in, take a look at this Advisory, too: It provides a more complete overview of different monitoring equipment and basic monitoring systems good for home or small business.

P.S. Business owner or manager? Print out this page and use it to start a discussion with staff. You may not need to follow through with all these suggestions, but you should at least have an idea of what other businesses are doing to protect their workplace — and their receptionist.