Securing a Medical Center

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


All employees, doctors and long-term contractors should be issued an access credential that they are required to display at all times, with the credential also serving as a visual photo identification badge. In addition to the previously mentioned use in pharmacies and patient record areas, an access control system can be deployed throughout the facility for control and management purposes. Each user should have customized access only to those areas required for them to complete their current assignment. For instance, doctors may be allowed to access elevators to surgical suites and any other patient care areas, while a maintenance worker’s card may not allow entry to the data center. The system should allow access to be coded not only for individual location, but also by day and shift, job classification, certification currency, etc. The system may also be integrated with time-and-attendance functions, parking access and logical access functions for computer sign-on.

A highly integrated access system may help to track the movement of employees or other vital medical personnel. In an emergency, it would be helpful to know if a doctor had arrived at the hospital and in what department he or she is currently working. RFID-based tracking systems are also helpful for monitoring wandering patients, infants and portable equipment.

Stories of newborn babies being taken from a nursery make national news. That is the type of publicity that no hospital wants. RFID tags can be fitted to an infant’s ankle. Readers placed at the perimeter of nursery or maternity ward will set off an alarm if anyone other than an authorized caregiver tries to take a baby past that point. A tag can also set off an alarm if anyone tampers with it to remove it from the infant.

The same type of RFID tag and reader system also can work in geriatric or head trauma areas, where patients suffering from dementia or other impairment may try to wander from a controlled area, placing themselves into a dangerous situation.

Tracking Equipment

A similar RFID system may also be used to track equipment throughout the hospital. Expensive equipment, such as portable X-ray machines and crash carts, can be moved from room to room or even to a different floor. By applying an RFID tag to the equipment and mounting readers on entry and exit portals, it is possible to locate the equipment when it is needed. From a business perspective, proper management of expensive assets enables the facility to have the equipment when and where it is needed for patient care without excess inventory or unnecessary delay.

Infrastructure costs to effectively use asset-tracking systems are still substantial; however, technology costs are decreasing, ensuring hospitals will be deploying more of these systems in the future.

Ongoing Risk Assessment

As with any type of facility, a hospital or medical center needs a regular risk assessment to make sure that its security program is up to meeting the challenges it faces. An experienced systems integrator will be able to assist with such an assessment, balancing the unique needs of a specific facility with available and reliable technology from respected manufacturers. Highly integrated systems enable modular expansion as new applications are identified or funded. Additionally, a single-operator interface into multiple subsystems (access, alarms, CCTV, intercom, etc.) can actually reduce manpower and operational costs while improving the timeliness of the response to any security situation.

Any time there is new construction — a parking garage, offices or a maternity center, for example — it is important to consider security from the beginning planning stages. It is always easier and less expensive to run cables during the build phase than to create construction havoc to patients and staff during a retrofit.

Medical centers and hospitals have security concerns that go above and beyond what most other organizations need to consider. These large, city-like facilities need to integrate video and access control with new technologies and other low-tech solutions to keep their employees, visitors and some of the most vulnerable among us safe. It is a huge challenge that takes careful planning and implementation, and the experience of a qualified systems integrator can be a valuable asset for a successful outcome.

Bill Savage is the president of Security Control Systems Inc., with offices in Houston, Dallas, Austin, Texas, and New Mexico. Savage is also a founder, past president and current member of Security-Net, an international network of 24 leading independent systems integrators.