Networked Simplicity

Jun 1, 2006 12:00 PM

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The North Austin Medical Center (NAMC), a 210-bed, full-service hospital in Austin, Texas, required higher levels of security than were already in place, but, like most healthcare organizations, also needed to find ways to manage costs.

Securing a facility that covers 679,000 square feet and employs more than 975 physicians is no small feat. NAMC's security system previously consisted of doors with card access, a staff of 10 security officers and a CCTV system for the building. But NAMC management needed a solution that would allow it to expand security incrementally, while reducing costs and increasing efficiency.

NAMC contacted system integrator Safe Sight, Austin, Texas, about upgrading its access control system, and Safe Sight based its winning bid on the network-based S2 NetBox from S2 Security Systems, Wellesley, Mass.

Upgrade considerations

NAMC's access control system already managed 24 doors, including those leading to high-security areas such as the pharmacy, labor and delivery, and patient records. NAMC's goal was to add 16 doors to the access control system; however, the legacy system required a door control panel for every eight doors, and the system's installed control panels were already at maximum capacity. Adding 16 new doors would have meant the expense not just of the card readers, but also of the new control panels — a $20,000 expenditure. Further additions to the system, which the security team foresaw, would have meant even more additional panels and thousands more in costs.

NAMC also needed to improve the security staff's ability to monitor the system. Officers had access to the one dedicated access control computer, but the computer was not located in the CCTV monitoring area where the security staff was stationed. In order to check on access alerts, the security officers were required to leave their stations to go to the access control computer and review the problem. As a result, officers were not able to monitor video feeds and hospital staff members were not able to quickly gain access to critical areas of the hospital.

Additionally, NAMC's ID badging system was plagued by inaccuracies and inefficiency. The existing system required two separate databases: one for the information that was seen on the badge, and the second for the access credential records. Information for each database had to be entered separately. Errors due to double-entries jeopardized the effectiveness of the system, and the additional time that it took to enter information twice was a drain on NAMC's resources.

The solution

Security systems integrator Safe Sight proposed upgrading from NAMC's legacy system to S2 Security System's S2 NetBox, a network-based integrated security management system that supports access control, alarm monitoring, temperature monitoring, video and intercom applications in a small-form-factor IP-based network appliance.

“We are always in favor of investigating technology advances and other innovations that will upgrade our systems,” says Robert Haugland, manager of safety and security for NAMC. “Moving to a network-based system opens up tremendous possibilities for the future of security at NAMC.”

The S2 NetBox leverages existing network infrastructure and offers increased scalability and flexibility. The system's Web-based architecture enables remote monitoring from any computer connected to the network and remote access for maintenance.

Going online

Six of the NetBoxes (one housing the network controller, motherboard and several access blades) and five remote network nodes were simply plugged into the hospital's existing IP network. The 24 doors already equipped with card controls were then switched from the legacy system to the S2 NetBox.

Next, the 16 new doors that NAMC originally wanted to add were connected to the access control system. Later, as the need arose, NAMC found they could select additional doors and add them to the system. The system simplified adding the new doors because the remote node panels were easily added in close physical proximity to the new doors, a network connection was always close by and only one additional cable needed to be run.

“The process for adding doors is now much more cost-effective,” Haugland says. “If a director comes to us and asks to secure a particular door with a proximity card and reader, we know that it will cost about $1,000 per door, all inclusive. It makes it much easier to evaluate requests and see where they fit into our budget.”

With the system installed, NAMC's security officers no longer have to rely on a dedicated access control computer and are able to monitor the system without leaving their stations. Any employee that has been granted permission to monitor the system can do so using a computer at any location.

“That is one of the great features of a Web-based system. Once we purchased the initial system, we had complete control of it,” Haugland says.

NAMC also replaced the ID badging system with the S2 NetBox. Safe Sight carried out the data migration from the two databases previously required by the legacy system into a single database, so information now only needs to be entered once. That information is then linked to a photo taken by a camera connected to the system through the network, and the process is complete.

Technology leads to broader security initiatives

The technology has inspired NAMC to develop a new roadmap for future security initiatives. “When we first began looking at a new system, it was simply an effort to try to reduce the cost of adding doors,” Haugland says. “After realizing what we could do with a network-based system, the sky is the limit in what we can do to tie in other systems.”

Haugland uses the systems to perform mandatory audits of the access control system. “We have to provide reports concerning access control, such as how many times doors are found unsecured,” Haugland says.

Haugland also uses the system to query the database for specific information by department, individual staff members or even specific doors, and he can generate reports to help audit activity.

The system can also create a custom access control package for each department and type of hire complete with pre-assigned security credentials.

Haugland says that NAMC is moving toward integration of its video surveillance with the system. Safe Sight has also developed a solution for a network-based camera system for NAMC's parking lots to augment the facility's existing pan/tilt/zoom cameras.


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