RALEIGH — With many parents and staff increasingly anxious about student safety in light of recent school shootings, LobbyGuard Solutions, based out of Raleigh, is providing schools with new methods of securing their buildings.
Kevin Allen, the current president of LobbyGuard, has been with the company since its start in 2005 and before that when it was just an idea. Allen is a native of North Carolina, growing up in Graham, and attended UNC-Greensboro before getting involved in Research Triangle technology company Cii Technology Solutions.
Allen said the idea for the system came while he was working at Cii. They did not get enough foot traffic to justify a full-time receptionist, so instead they set up a phone in the lobby with instructions for visitors to hit a certain extension to alert people of their presence.
This was “deemed not to be professional enough,” and instead, they created a Powerpoint with options to check them in, ending with a button that sent an email to the company.
“We created that in the year 2000, and after three years of folks coming in and saying, ‘Hey, I’d really like to have this in my office,’ a light bulb went off in my head,” Allen told NSJ. “And so I said, maybe we can build this out and see where we can go with it.”
They added some features like a drivers license scanner, the ability to take a photograph of the visitor and a more customized interface. Allen said they assumed the major interest for this product would be from similar small businesses that wanted a simple, professional way to address the visitor issue.
“But one of our first presentations was to Wake County Schools in 2003, and they loved it. We had no idea there was such a need for this at schools, but ever since then we’ve been growing our school install base.”
After receiving some funding from other investors, they spun LobbyGuard out of Cii’s corporate structure in 2005, with Kevin Allen at the helm. The demand for security solutions at schools and other buildings has rapidly grown their business around the country.
“We definitely have a heavy presence here in North Carolina with Wake, Mecklenburg, Person, Carteret, Buncombe and you can keep naming the major counties, and we pretty much have them covered,” Allen said.
But LobbyGuard is much more than a one-state business. Currently, together with Raptor Technologies their parent company, they monitor 30,000 schools in 48 states.
“We represent more than three times the rest of the folks in the industry combined,” Allen said of the recent joining of forces by LobbyGuard and Raptor, previously the two largest players in the market.
The software itself is a simple way to monitor everyone who enters a building, running them through a series of near-instant checks through sexual offender, criminal and even custom school databases. The school can create “red flag” lists of people who are not allowed into the building, like parents who do not have custody but attempt to pick up a student anyway. These incidents around custody are actually a much more common security problem than the ones that make the news, Allen said.
The LobbyGuard SL product, which is the basic package, is the most popular, although there are two others that add more features and hardware. LobbyGuard SL includes a camera, a visitor badge and a drivers license scanner, all connected to the school’s computers by USB. There is also a software program they provide that ties all the hardware together on one platform.
“One of the growing trends for school security across the country right now are what are called ‘man traps’ or vestibules,” Allen said. These require a visitor to enter a first door where they wait in a room until they are approved and can enter the second door into the building.
LobbyGuard integrates into this vestibule system by allowing staff to take a picture of the visitor, scan their drivers license and perform the checks while the visitor is waiting to receive their badge. If a normal visitor badge is printed, they allow the person in, but if it prints out as “void” the staff knows not to let them in the building and to notify security.
In addition to adding a layer of security, LobbyGuard also makes it easy to track things like volunteers, student late arrivals and teacher attendance. Having one system to manage all of these elements quickly and thoroughly is becoming the standard practice in American schools.
“The demand for visitor management in schools has doubled nearly every year in the past five years,” said Allen. “The entirety of K-12 schools in the U.S. is just about 130,000. Of that 130,000, by industry estimates roughly 40,000 have a solution in place today.”
Only a few years before this school year, the number was a fraction of that amount. Of those 40,000 schools, the recently combined company of Raptor Technologies and LobbyGuard Solutions accounts for about three quarters of that.
Despite this acquisition by their competitor, Allen said, “The plan is to stay in North Carolina and to stay as LobbyGuard. It’s important to our customers because they trust our brand and they trust our integrity. So, we will not be leaving North Carolina and we will not be changing our name.”
As another school year begins, Allen says his company and their product go a long way in protecting students, staff and visitors, but adds, “I would just advise everyone, don’t just rely on hardware and software. Also rely on human nature, keep your eyes and ears open, and report things if you see them. If you do that, you’ll have a great year and a safe year.”