Designing hospital security

Feb 1, 2001 12:00 PM, STEPHENIE SLAHOR

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Thomas L. Norman, CPP, of Engineered Automation Systems Inc., Santa Ana, Calif., says hospital security is a unique challenge. Consider the variety of people who make up the typical hospital environment - patients, staff, vendors, physicians, visitors and even their enemies. Consider the place - many different rooms and spaces, high-value equipment, accessibility to drugs, many entrances and ease-of-movement around the building and premises. Consider a typical hospital - an open feeling, many managers, politics, autonomous physicians, and what Norman calls "big desires and limited budgets."

It all adds up to a need for different approaches to security. Hospital managers base their security decisions on law, costs, fear of litigation, and to protect their facility's reputation. But the critical assets of a hospital - its people, property, information and reputation - must be protected with good security.

Norman lists the main threats in a hospital environment as insider/employee theft, outsider gang members, visitor thefts, threats against patients or staff, and crimes of opportunity.

To analyze security needs, begin by listing the departments, reviewing the business culture of the hospital, determining the threat levels in each department, interviewing department heads about threats and crime, and planning possible countermeasures for each department.

Then develop a master plan and review it against a "reality check" on the basis for the plan and the tools that will be needed. Don't forget, Norman says, that you have options in security - high-tech, low-tech, even no-tech.

Among the no-tech options, he says, policies and procedures can be developed to enhance security. Training and supervision keep those policies and procedures at the forefront. Programs help promote security awareness in the staff. And Norman suggests having an anonymous 800 number for reporting crimes and slips in security.

Low-tech options include locks, barriers, good lighting and landscaping), says Norman.

High-tech choices include alarm systems, access control systems, photo identification, CCTV, two-way voice communications and weapons screening systems. But new tools such as patient locators, video pursuit software, delayed egress hardware, active asset control systems, enterprise-wide systems, digital video and pager alarms can enhance security even more.

Norman says professionals should look at the threats likely in specific areas:

- the emergency/trauma department (gang fights, vendettas, domestic conflicts, child custody conflicts, VIP patients);

- infant care area (infant abduction, need for CCTV and infant security);

- pharmacy/drug storage area (alarm and access control systems);

- prisoner care area (receiving, elevator lock-off, surveillance, command center);

- operating rooms (access control, delayed egress hardware, CCTV),

- labs (access control, duress alarms, CCTV);

- nuclear medicine area (access control, CCTV);

- geriatric care area (patient locators, CCTV);

- psychiatric care area (lock-down capability, access control, staff duress, solitary room);

- morgue (decedent services area, access control, alarm system, CCTV); and

- PBX area (late-night security, rest room security, door release, duress alarm).

Don't forget such places as the parking lot (lighting, access control, CCTV in stairwells, duress alarm at fee collection booth), food service area (duress alarm), gift shop (burglar alarm, duress alarm) and shipping/receiving areas (CCTV, patrol). And study the threat potential of biohazard waste storage and disposal (CCTV, access control).

New products such as alarm pagers, infant abduction detection systems, patient wandering systems, CCTV video pursuit systems, people trackers and asset protection systems can each enhance hospital security, Norman suggests.

Indeed hospital security is unique, but with good planning, protection of its assets can be enhanced.

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