STE Innovation Award Gold Medalist: The Hardened Hospital

How historic St. Elizabeth’s transformed six-plus years of work and seven zones of technology into the backbone of an innovative security system

The thousands of hours spent by Gilbane, the construction manager, the architects, engineers and security designers was impressive in order to open a facility with a smooth transition process.

“Many owners and even construction managers underestimate the amount of due diligence required for functional code review of systems and equipment,” says Jerry “Dutch” Forstater, CEO and chief engineer PSE. “The review of a complicated, massive structure such as Saint Elizabeth’s must account for HVAC control, fire alarm messaging, fire alarm zoning, horizontal exiting and smoke partition conformance, mass evacuation procedures and shelter-in-place compliance. All hospitals, small and large, need an effective program to manage critical events to provide a safe emergency management program.”

Training and Acceptance of New Technologies

With upwards of 1,000 people on site during active community periods and more than 600 occupants 24 hours a day, the facility sees 30 years of wear-and-tear in 10 years time compared to an average building. With this compression of life cycle comes substantial cost to maintain the systems to provide the utmost in reliability and patient control.

There are critical aspects to appropriate transitioning of new security technologies with staff that were transfixed with technologies dating to the 1960s that looked more like a group of old submarine turrets — with little information compared to what appears today in modern security control centers.

The elements of transition included commissioning of security and fire alarm systems to provide as close to 100-percent accuracy, reliability and functionality as possible. With this came the production of the security policies, procedures and post orders along with security training during two weeks of highly intensive shift training. As-records were provided in CAD format to be able to drill down and magnify site elements and equipment through a Help Desk, or Knowledge Center, as Gilbane Company calls it. PSE and Gilbane worked with our staff to provide these staff-sensitive transition services over the course of 18 months.

Leveraging Advanced Technology

Here are some of the advantages of innovating behavioral health by incorporating maximum security and life safety management:

• Multiple zoned security levels with contiguous life safety protection for mass evacuation and shelter-in-place.
• Clear and concise reporting, recording and response.
• Systems integration based on each system being independent from the access control and monitoring system to increase reliability in unexpected events.
• Improved patient care, staff safety and community/consumer involvement.
• Facilitation of mental health management to the community-at-large in the event of a natural disaster or terrorist action.

Return on Investment

For every opportunity, there is a cost. The opportunity was to provide an infrastructure and facility that replaced buildings that were from mid-20th century and even post-Civil War structures while incorporating new behavioral strategies. The return on investment probably cannot be measured against any strict rule based on its technology cost or other hard physical security or life safety cost. In fact, most facilities’ operational costs far outweigh the traditional “bricks and sticks” values placed on buildings.

Because the return on investment is both relative and easily justifiable, a percentage cost of approximately 9 percent of the project’s value for the physical security, electronic security, fire alarm and installation cost does not seem unreasonable. In this case, the hard costs for facility were $165 million with a system materials and installation cost approaching $15 million.
Saint Elizabeth’s and the Department of Mental Health’s management is ecstatic with the results of almost six years of planning, design and construction of an innovative facility. This is reflected in the unprecedented number of requests for tours to mark its success.

Richard Warsh is Director of Facility Planning for the Washington D.C. Department of Mental Health. The Security Innovation Award is an annual competition held by STE magazine. The winning projects are chosen by a panel of security industry experts. For more details or to learn about entering next year’s competition, contact editor Steve Lasky at