Fitting Solutions Into the Big Picture

Oct. 27, 2008
At Huntsville Hospital, security upgrades ride the wave of other business initiatives.

The day he was hired as director of safety, security and parking at Huntsville Hospital in Huntsville, AL, Brett Bramlett jumped straight into the security planning for a massive expansion project. In the six years since then, things haven’t slowed down much. Huntsville is a 901-bed facility that employs more than 550 physicians. It’s the largest and oldest medical center in north Alabama, and it serves as the referral center for the whole Tennessee Valley.

Huntsville has a high standard of care for its patients. The hospital has been named one of the country’s best in orthopaedic and vascular services for three years running, and it continually improves and expands its facilities to meet the needs of its patients. The hospital has completed the construction that welcomed Bramlett into his new job—the building of a new heart center, parking garages and a tram to provide transport between the hospital’s main building and its east wing. It’s also converted the east wing into a women's and children’s hospital, and now it’s gearing up for several new projects. In each change, Bramlett has looked for an opportunity to upgrade and expand his security program, with great success.

Change of Command
The gem of the recent upgrades at Huntsville is a new command center that was custom designed for the hospital staff by Birmingham, AL-based integrator Gorrie-Regan and Associates.

“They had this old room in the bottom of a parking deck, and they were building a brand new deck,” said Scott Wilson, sales for Gorrie Regan. “Basically they were outgrowing this little dungeon they were stuck in, and this was Brett’s opportunity to upgrade to something nicer.”

The biggest problem with the old control room was real estate. All the monitoring and recording equipment resided in the same small room, and wires inevitably tangled and spilled out everywhere. The technology wasn’t the problem—in fact, Bramlett had recently overseen a transition from VCRs and multiplexers to full-featured DVRs—but the cramped quarters inconvenienced the monitoring officers, made organization difficult, and impeded system expansion. “When we added the infant abduction system, we really didn’t have anywhere to put the monitor or the computer, so we wound up sticking it on the shelf, and it didn’t look real neat,” said Bramlett.

When he learned the old garage was being torn down and a new one would be built, Bramlett seized the opportunity to begin planning for a new, expanded command center. “We had time to actually get a group of officers together—some of our senior officers who had been here a while—and we visited other hospitals and looked at different consoles and different ideas. We spent about 12 months deciding on the current design.

“We were able to put a wish list together, and (Gorrie-Regan) took that and came up with the design that would work best for the employee that’s actually sitting in there,” he said.

Bramlett requested more control room space in the newly built parking deck, and the new command center leverages that space to provide a more user-friendly operating environment. New monitors offer much more flexibility, according to Gorrie-Regan’s Wilson. “There are 30 LCDs and four 42-inch plasmas. Six of those LCDs are in the console itself with a piece of glass on top of them, and each one is hooked to a different system for them to sit there and monitor. But they can flip that up on the big screen as well if they wanted to—pull up a camera and really zoom in and take a look at it.”

“(The old room) was terrible for an operator,” Bramlett said. “We had five different PC-based systems, so there were five different kinds of keyboards. Which keyboard do you go to for what alarm? We were able to streamline that, and it’s very user friendly now.”

The command center monitors surveillance, call boxes, access control, the infant abduction system, the text paging system, the fire alarm system for the whole campus, the overhead paging system, and even the tram controls. If a patient in the east wing needs urgent care, security can hold a tram for that patient and send it direct to the main building, bypassing the stops in between.

Besides streamlining operations for the monitoring officers, the new command center streamlines the organization of the equipment. Said Bramlett, “There’s a back room where all the computers and DVRs are located, and we put in a computer room floor so you don’t see any of the wires. We also had the opportunity when we moved to label everything and for everything to be neat and maintain it that way, and we have total control over what goes in there so we don’t have multiple contractors coming in adding things.

“We also have the ability to plan for the future. We’ve even got one bay that’s available for future expansion for some type of PC-based system. We don’t know if we’ll ever even need it, but you design this thing, and if you’re full when you design it there’s nowhere to add anything later.”

Improved Infant Protection
When the hospital decided to turn its east wing into a new women’s and children’s hospital, Bramlett saw another chance to fold some security upgrades into the change.

“We had one of the old infant abduction systems here in main, and when we moved labor and delivery and mother/baby up to the women’s and children’s facility we were able to research and put a new system in. We had more than 30 false alarms a month with the old system, and it’s pretty much zero now,” said Bramlett.

Many of the problems with the old infant abduction system had to do with the location of the mother/baby unit in the main hospital. The unit was situated on the same floor as other departments, so, said Bramlett, “we were having to partition off portions of the floor and try to talk to the parents and let them know not to go through certain doors.” Parents of course often forgot these warnings and left the bounds of the unit with infants, prompting alarms. If they stood too close to boundary doors, the system would also alarm.

“With the new system the entire floor is the mother/baby unit,” said Bramlett. “Now they can go anywhere in the unit, but if they try to go through a stairwell or get on the elevator with a child that’s tagged, the doors will just stand there open. They won’t go anywhere. The doors are locked down and the alarm will go off. Plus we have a camera on each of those areas. When the alarm goes off, our command center can see who’s there and what’s going on.”

Always Have a Plan
These are only a few examples of ways Huntsville’s security department has used the hospital’s business plans to implement security upgrades. Bramlett is currently looking at several potential projects, like enhancing security in the hospital’s waiting area by working more cameras and guards into a plan for a new, more patient-friendly waiting room, and upgrading to campus-wide contactless smart card access to facilitate the hospital’s desire for a more comprehensive nurse call system.

Of course, in order to plan your security program around your organization’s business plan, you need to have a good understanding of the needs of the business and you need to stay informed of major decisions when they happen. But according to Bramlett, there’s one more important factor. “I think the main thing is to have a plan. We try to have a three-year plan, even though a lot of times we don’t know which direction the hospital will end up heading. For instance, they’re going to be building a hospital in Madison, an area outside of Hunstville. The state has approved that for a 60-bed facility. We’re one of the many people wanting to build that hospital, so we have some unique opportunities if we’re able to do that. We already have a complex out there where we have a wellness center and an imaging center. And we have cameras out there now, and we have access control out there now, but we don’t have those three buildings connected by fiber.

“I can’t ask for $50,000 to do all that right now because we’re not going to get it. However, I know that if we’re working with our IT department to build a hospital there, it will all be connected, and it will allow us to do some different things, like put a satellite station with an officer at the emergency area of the hospital with the ability to control the cameras from that location. It’s just knowing what you want to do. We may never build that hospital, but we’ve got to have a plan.”

Marleah Blades is managing editor of ST&D. She can be reached at 407-382-8535 or [email protected].