Johns Hopkins Hospital’s VP of Corporate Security Harry Koffenberger says metal detectors aren’t practical additions for the hospital’s security, partly due to the number of entrances most hospitals have.
Photo credit: AP Photo/Steve Ruark
Do hospitals need metal detectors?
An incident like the murder-suicide and shooting of a doctor yesterday at Johns Hopkins Hospital puts the limelight on healthcare security. Wherever this happens, be it a post office, a school, a hospital or even an office building inherently means that national media will put out a battle cry, even if the incident is isolated and not indicative of the overall security and safety in that vertical. The battle cry and general discussion from yesterday in major news media outlets is that we should be installing metal detectors at hospitals to prevent these kinds of incidents.
And while it's certainly tragic to have an incident like this one at Johns Hopkins Hospital, it by no means speaks to overall changes that should be made in hospital security. Hospitals, by and large, tend to be fairly safe places, where issues of basic asset protection (drugs, high-end equipment) are more often the day-to-day security scenario -- not multiple shootings. (Emergency room areas tend to be the exception to the rule, as these locations tend to have a higher crime profile, and can be segmented from the hospital in terms of appropriate levels of security, according to SIW contributor and longtime hospital security consultant Jeff Aldridge of Security Assessments International.)
So, what is the real solution? On an electronic side, it might mean adding panic alarms in more locations to summon responders and security before an incident can accrue more victims. But that's easier said than done. In speaking with Aldridge, most hospitals are so strapped financially that capital projects for security improvements have all but gone away. Even installing something as relatively simple as a panic alarm system is beyond the spending realm of most hospital administrators. But besides technology installations, there is always training. It may be time to revisit training on how to deal with upset family members so that their frustrations with a relative's health don't turn into outward violence in the hospital environment.
In many ways, this mirrors the education market, where few schools can afford to put in place metal detectors and entrance screenings to try to stop the relatively rare occurrence of student shootings on campus. Instead, campuses have focused their attention on training measures to have more staff, teachers and administrators recognize possible signs of emerging violence.
As Johns Hopkins Hospital's Vice President of Corporate Security Harry Koffenberger told the Baltimore Sun, "To put in magnetometers at 80 doors, and the requisite armed force needed to staff them, would be impossible." Koffenberger is right. Money, technology and manpower shouldn't be thrown at security incidents as simply a reactive program of response. It's more important to identify what is feasible, what is right, and then proceed appropriately.
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