Prescribed Security

Jul 1, 2007 12:00 PM, By Ashley Roe

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Twenty-three years ago security provisions at St. Mary's Hospital in Decatur, Ill., seemed anything but high-tech. Doors were secured by old-fashioned lock and key. Cameras were, for a time, non-existent, and when they were added shortly after the commercial development of CCTV security systems in the 1970s and 1980s, officers had to rely on low-quality black-and-white video to investigate incidents.

Fast forward to 2007. The hospital's halls and doorways are lined with cameras capturing video of patients and visitors who pass through, and employees must swipe an ID card or type in a code on a keypad in order to activate sensors that will unlock doors. Brian Morrell, St. Mary's Hospital security supervisor, has had a front-row seat to observe the hospital's evolution in security technology since 1984, the year he joined the St. Mary's staff.

As with many security professionals, Morrell has learned through experience the required steps to create an effective security plan tailored to the hospital's needs. In the case of St. Mary's, the display of two qualities stands at the forefront. “Being a public hospital, we are here to treat people, and we have to provide a safe environment for our patients staff,” he says. “In order to do that, we have to be proactive and reactive in our security efforts.”

St. Mary's is one of 13 hospitals in the Hospital Sisters Health System, a multi-national healthcare system that owns and operates eight hospitals in Illinois and five in Wisconsin. The hospital is located about 180 miles south of Chicago. “When I first arrived here, we did not have any cameras at all. In fact, security systems themselves were a hard sell,” Morrell says. During his early days, the hospital was located in an area plagued by gang activity and drug crimes. “I saw what was going on and started developing plans to increase security,” Morrell says. Using the technology available at the time, Morrell implemented surveillance and access control products as key components of the hospital's security plan. As technology advancements emerged, the hospital migrated continually to newer products. Being proactive in security, Morrell explains, means keeping up with current technology trends and incorporating them into an existing plan. “As society and technology evolve, hospital security must evolve too,” he says.

Ten years ago, St. Mary's began using video surveillance products from Supercircuits, an Austin, Texas-based manufacturer and distributor of video and audio surveillance equipment, to design and implement a system covering the five-building hospital campus. Morrell installed the equipment himself.

“A hospital is very much a place where we want to feel safe,” says Jake Lahman, Supercircuits vice president of operations. “It is a place where we are often at our most vulnerable point. We are not familiar with it, and oftentimes, we don't have control over where we go or where our stuff goes.” As a result, security plans must be developed to protect the interests and possessions of patients, he says.

The goals of the St. Mary's surveillance plan included coverage of the hospital's high-volume emergency room, its pediatric department, the obstetrics and gynecology department and the hospital pharmacy. “Coverage of the pediatric and obstetrics department were important because of the rise in the number of infant abductions in recent years,” Lahman says. “In the case of the ER, people have to remember that the emergency room is also the place where criminals go to get treatment, so security is necessary for that area.” Pharmacy cameras were installed to combat medication theft.

A total of 55 analog and IP cameras were installed throughout the four departments and covering the hospital's entrances, exits and main hallways. Cameras were also installed in the hospital's parking lot to protect patient and staff vehicles, which are often parked for days or weeks at a time.

Among the Supercircuits products chosen, St. Mary's is using PC219ZWPH High-Resolution Weatherproof Zoom cameras with 5-50mm lenses and PC33C-4G Next Gen Color Surveillance Cameras. To record and manage the hospital's video surveillance, Morrell chose and deployed five DMR16CD-3 16-channel DVRs that offer search and retrieval functions using time, alarm events or recording lists. “We have 22 monitors interfaced with the DVRs, and our 12-person security staff does spot checks of the monitors throughout the day,” Morrell says.

While security cameras are known to act as crime deterrents, Morrell believes that cameras in large part can only help “after the fact,” and a recent incident proved the validity of his belief. “One night, we had 13 physicians' offices broken into. After the incident, we went back through the camera footage and were able to identify the suspects,” he explains. “That's when we realized those cameras paid off.” It is also one of the occasions when being reactive to security findings proved important.

St. Mary's also uses covert cameras from Supercircuits to help carry out internal investigations meant to monitor staff actions. “For covert investigations, we will usually set up a concealed camera in an area for a certain period of time and then review the contents,” Morrell says. Supercircuits offers covert versions of a number of camera models that can be concealed and placed on a desk, cabinet or wall. “Covert surveillance is used for two reasons: for special investigations and as a tool to root out a particular problem in order to prevent an activity from happening,” Lahman says. “Some applications where covert video might be crucial include internal investigations, such as theft of property, abuse or overmedication incidents.”

For access control, the hospital purchased a system from Hirsch Electronics, Santa Ana, Calif., through St. Louis-area vendor Security Innovations Inc. The hospital runs five to seven access control panels covering doors and elevators. Staff members must use either a keypad or card for access.

Morrell says he can see through patients' reactions that the hospital's security plan is effective in creating a safe and comfortable environment for them. “From time to time, we will get general statements that they do feel safe here,” he says.

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