Securing a Medical Center

An in-depth look at the technology and strategies for a successful security deployment


All perimeter entries to the hospital should be under video surveillance. Clearly visible monitors should also be mounted just inside each major entry to let people know they will be monitored while in the facility. This will help to act as a deterrent to someone planning illicit activity, and can comfort those whose most valuable assets, their loved ones, are entrusted to the facility.

The ER

The emergency room can be a hospital’s most challenging and dangerous area. Most emergency rooms never close and they serve as the treatment center of choice for many ill and injured people. Gang violence that begins on the streets may spill into the ER, where injured gang members are taken for treatment. Cameras are critical for monitoring the entrance, waiting room and non-treatment areas of the examination space.

Most new hospital layouts have designed emergency rooms to include a security station with a constant guard presence in order to enforce access control procedures. Previously, many security stations were located deep within the center of the hospital. Having security personnel closer to the action can help diffuse problems as they arise.

No one should be allowed to pass from the waiting room to the examination space without first checking in with a receptionist, who should have the ability to electronically unlock the door separating the two areas. Bulletproof glass is often a good idea to serve as a barrier between treatment areas and public spaces, and whenever possible, non-medical personnel should be escorted into the area.

Obviously, medical personnel and emergency responders with ill or injured patients need immediate access to the ER, and a separate entrance for these people is always a good idea. Those with a need to enter the ER on a regular basis can be issued an access card, enabling speedy access for patient care while maintaining a high degree of control.

The Pharmacy

Pharmacies are another area in a hospital that require a high degree of security and accountability. Stocked with many valuable and life-saving drugs with high street values, pharmacies and their inventory can be a target of theft and manipulation. The pharmacy needs to balance flexibility and easy access with strict control of who is permitted access to the pharmacy and its contents. Access to the pharmacy should be kept to a minimum and each should have a card reader to allow access only to authorized employees.

The access control system will provide an audit trail of who entered the pharmacy and when. Video surveillance is also essential and may deter abuses of pharmacy resources. Cameras should be mounted to monitor the work areas and entries. In addition to standard access control and security technologies, advanced inventory management applications are available to not only restrict access to controlled substances but also provide patient accounting and medical records management.

Other critical areas that require video surveillance are elevator banks, waiting rooms, hallways in public areas, nurses’ stations on each floor and entries to areas such as surgical suites and the nursery. All video should be transmitted to a central security station, where it will be recorded for investigative purposes. The station should be staffed at all times in order to respond immediately to alarm situations. By monitoring live video during a crisis, the attendant can help direct fellow security and law enforcement officers during the emergency.

Protecting Patient Information

A host of state and federal laws and regulations now require careful protection of private patient information. Data centers and record rooms should be treated much like a pharmacy — with limited entries, access control and cameras mounted to see who comes and goes. There are numerous regulatory and technology initiatives to convert hard copy patient information to data, making the convergence of physical and logical (data and network) security not only desirable, but a necessity. The “file room” of days gone by will become the computer workstation or handheld computer in the future, making data more readily accessible and making security and protection of medical records a united effort of both security and IT professionals.

Integrated Access Control