Technology helping hospitals stay safe and secure
Though visitors at facilities run by Carolinas Healthcare System might realize that they’re walking past security cameras, most have no inkling of the advanced technology and analytics tracking them.
Behind the scenes, an advanced video monitoring system tracks feeds from digital and analog cameras arrayed across the system’s facilities in North and South Carolina 24 hours a day, using motion-detection and facial-pattern-recognition algorithms to produce pictures of passers-by and notes of when quiet periods are disturbed by unusual activity.
Bryan Warren, senior manager of corporate security for Carolinas Healthcare, says the video-analytics system made by 3VR recently came in handy in fingering a thief who had used an old ID badge from a hospital construction contractor to go on site and pilfer $30,000 worth of copper.
“We were able to go back, find this per- son, and get a face shot of him,” Warren says. “We took that back to the contractor, who said, ‘Hey, that’s so-and-so, he used to work for us and we fired him two weeks ago.’ Case solved.”
Experts say hospitals in increasing numbers are deploying security and telecommunications technology more commonly associated with courthouses, banks and 911 dispatch centers, and they’re being used for far more than nabbing copper thieves. Deploying more technology has become a common reaction as security threats inside healthcare facilities remain at elevated levels.
Statistics from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration say hospital nurses face more than triple the average chance of being assaulted on the job as an average American worker. Joint Commission records show an elevated level of violence in healthcare facilities in 2011, one year after the organization issued a Sentinel Event Alert for such incidents in 2010.
Hospitals are adopting everything from remotely controlled access doors and 21st century digital surveillance systems to badges and pendants that can remotely track people’s whereabouts.
Just out on the horizon, hospital security officials are looking ahead to advances such as facial-recognition software that can accurately compare visitors’ faces to known mug shots and send alerts when specific people arrive on campus, such as estranged spouses or past perpetrators.
The Holy Grail of hospital security, experts say, is a system that could combine every security-related system into a single converged enterprise, which, when linked with the IT and human resources departments, could scan for patterns or anomalies and improve overall “situational awareness.”
The downside is that the growth of these systems can create a kind of security creep: Megapixel cameras gobble up bandwidth that would otherwise be used for patient-care needs, and growing budgets for new gadgetry consume capital funds that would otherwise go toward expenses such as electronic health records or information security.
Because of the need to balance the demands on time and resources, security officials say the acquisition of new security technologies can expose conflicts and weaknesses between departments in a hospital.
“A critical aspect of this is the security administrator must work closely with the IT department, because the IT department has the responsibility to vet all these technologies and make sure they fit into the overall system,” says Robert Owles, president at Owles Security Consulting, Waco, Texas. “There should be a big concern if there is a gap in cooperation or communication between the director of IT and the director of security.”
Though hospitals once occupied a sacred place in the minds of Americans, healthcare facilities today are subject to the same kinds of violence and disruptive behavior as any commercial building or school.
That’s why healthcare architects start pushing security needs before the first shovelful of dirt ever flies for a new project.
Scot Latimer, managing director of healthcare solutions at real-estate management firm Jones Lang Lasalle, says healthcare facilities