Hospitals must employ a variety of security measures

Odds are that the recent upsurge in spending in the healthcare field will be a long-term condition that could provide a cure for the electrical contractor whose checking account definitely needs a “vitamin boost.” Hospital administrators and security professionals tell us that, as baby boomers approach retirement and medical advances extend life expectancy, new opportunities in the healthcare field will continue to surface.

“A hospital tends to reflect a neighborhood and has the same security risks as a community. It historically has had an open campus. A retail store, the gift shop. A bank, the business office. A police station in the form of a security force. A restaurant, the cafeteria,” said Patrick Donaldson, president of Forbes and Company, Portland, Ore. In other words, hospitals are filled with patients who require a secure and healing environment.

“So in one facility there are the same types of risks that may be in an entire community. While the number of hospitals is shrinking, the size of facilities is increasing. This is big business.”

The institutions work silently in the background, most often, until there’s a problem. “It only takes one stolen child to produce a national headline, and that’s not the type of publicity any hospital wants,” said Joe Gulinello, vice president of Healthcare Security for Securitas USA, Miami.

The challenge of preventing a child abduction can be multifaceted. “People focus on nurseries, but in the grand scheme of things, a nursery is only one small area on which administrators focus. A child may be in the nursery for one to two days, but kidnappers disguised as nurses have taken babes from their mother’s arms. Future treatment may take place in the pediatrics unit or other areas of the hospital, so that’s where the risks are increasing,” he added.

Ultimately, the security issues focus on universal concerns of patient, visitor and staff access, and systems that control and monitor population movement coupled to an immediate response to any breach.

The pharmacy, for example, requires the same security as a 24-hour neighborhood drug store since visitors, employees or physicians may steal drugs for their personal use or resale.

Elevators are being programmed with data cards that allow a physician who needs immediate transportation to insert a card that overrides the system and immediately delivers a car. Elevator systems are also being installed with alarms that call security forces to the ground floor level when a perpetrator, or patient, is attempting to make a getaway.

Although touchpads are replacing keyed locks, a physician exiting a tuberculosis ward may balk at being required to touch a keypad. The result: a trend toward the use of proximity-based radio frequency devices that accomplish the task through the airwaves.

Security systems also are being designed to accommodate smart cards that electronically partition the entire facility, restricting employee access to specific areas. Cameras at all exits photograph every person entering or leaving the building.

Finally, even the fax machine and computer terminals must be safeguarded, so privileged correspondence and classified information does not come under the scrutiny of unauthorized eyeballs.

“The fact is that we cannot stop the person who wants to commit a crime in a hospital, so our goal is to deter and delay,” said Sean Ahrens, CPP and senior security consultant for Schirmer Engineering in Chicago.

“The keys to deterrence are purchasing good equipment, and installing it properly,” he added. He related his ability to outsmart a $300,000 infrared protective fence around a property by finding the projector and stepping behind it. “Bad installations are as big a problem as poor equipment.”

Elliot Boxerbaum, CPP and president of Security Risk Management Consultants Inc., Columbus, said “issues related to computer installations are one of the key components in a security installation.”

“Where electricians once were pulling separate wires to install a computer, local area networks and wireless networks are becoming the standard. The situation adds a new player to the game. The information technology (IT) specialist lives in a world in which his tools may be the backbone of an institution’s entire structure. So he’s now a partner in an arrangement that involves physical, logical and philosophical issues.”

Donaldson of Forbes and Co., who’s been in the business since the ’70s, said an electrician’s success in the market comes with the ability to place himself in the hospital administrator’s shoes, learn the language of the industry and the technology, and become a member of a facility’s planning team.

“Being proactive, the contractor can help build the security plan from the beginning. The payoff is that there’s a tremendous opportunity in the field,” he added.

In the burgeoning healthcare market, there’s plenty of room for growth and installations for the electrical contractor. Learn the business from the end-user’s point of view, and help them develop the best plan for the hospital’s personnel and its patients. EC