Finding a Creative Solution

Hospital improves communications as part of security plan

Hospitals are centers of healing and wellness that serve as a destination for those who have suffered injury or violence, causing people to possibly take safety and security for granted. However, recent surveys show a steady increase in assaults and violent acts over the past several years.

According to the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFO), there was a 23 percent increase in reported attacks and assaults from 2010 to 2011. The census also reports that patient and visiting family violence has increased by nearly 34 percent over the same timeframe. Additionally, each year, there are nearly 3,000 assaults on hospital staff alone, with many more going unreported.

The sad truth is that many hospitals and healthcare facilities are seeing a fast-growing need for increased security.

Security Budget

Despite this established demand, hospital security departments around the country have seen little to no change in their budgets and have been forced to find creative solutions to enhance security.

Many hospitals have identified security communications as a key, under-developed component of their overall security plan. During emergencies, patients, staff and visitors sometimes find it difficult to get in touch with emergency services in a timely manner. A faster response time can lead to a safer environment, decreasing the chances of a situation getting out of control.

Acting within the limitations of budgetary constraints, many hospitals have installed blue-light, emergency phones throughout their campuses. While security staff is limited to patrolling only one or two areas at a time, emergency phones act as a force multiplier, allowing dispatchers to quickly send patrols and staff to targeted areas in need of immediate assistance.

Availability of Emergency Assistance

In order to prevent crime and violence in medical centers, it is critical to combat the misconception that emergency assistance is instantly available anywhere and everywhere.

The widespread use of cell phones and the availability of Internet access has convinced some that they can always get an emergency response when needed. However, the reality is that there are everyday situations that separate a caller from immediate contact with others, such as the loss of cell phone reception, a dead battery and not knowing a specific phone number or the exact location. Besides, an unexpected situation can occur at any moment, and the ability to contact others, especially during an emergency, can be harder than expected.

It is situations like this that concern Adam Adcock of Carolinas HealthCare System.

Adcock is a systems engineer and project manager for the healthcare system’s physical security department who wanted to address these communication concerns with an easy and reliable solution. With the help of Stan Black and Alan Weeks of SAF Technologies, Adam and his team installed 16 of Talk- A-Phone’s blue-light, emergency phones across several parking decks at the Carolinas HealthCare System-NorthEast Hospital, a 457-bed, acute-care hospital in Concord, NC.

With more than 4,200 employees and thousands of patients at risk, an improvement to the facility’s communication capabilities was needed.

“We wanted to install a solution which we knew would operate without error, each and every time,” Adcock said. “We also appreciated the easy maintenance and high availability of replacement parts when required.”

Operating an Emergency Phone

The blue-light, emergency phones are coupled with LED, blue-light assembly. When activated, the blue light grabs the attention of nearby individuals, notifying them of an urgent situation, while simultaneously acting as a beacon for officers and security staff responding to the call. Placement of emergency phones and their active blue lights deter crime because the lights create a visible border and “safe zones” that patrons and criminals both know will quickly muster a response from security.

The emergency phones provide a direct line of communication to the hospital’s security department. Because an emergency situation may be hectic, it isn’t always a given that a person will have a phone or the phone number to security. For some, the use of their hands may be needed to help others, or in more dire situations, for self-defense.

One benefit of the blue light emergency phone is that once activated, it automatically dials the hospital’s security dispatch center.

“Our telecom team programs ring down lines specific for each station, including a location-specific caller ID,” Adcock said. “Once a button is pushed, our security communications center receives the call, gathers information and dispatches an appropriate officer response. We encourage our patients and staff to use the stations for anything, from a need for assistance to true emergency situations.”

To activate a phone, a user simply presses the bright red “Emergency” button on the front of the unit, and a dispatcher or security person will answer the phone and start assisting the person in need.

Integrating with Emergency Phones

At many other hospitals and similar facilities, upgrading emergency phones means entirely replacing existing devices and updating infrastructure, often at great expense. Fortunately for Adcock and his colleagues, the blue-light emergency phones are capable of integrating with a variety of other security devices, allowing the units to be upgraded and downgraded over a long period of time.

Recently, each blue-light emergency phone has been integrated with cameras to provide surveillance before, during and after activation. During activation, the security dispatch controller can assess a situation via the camera and relay extremely valuable and detailed information to responders and patrons.

For example, a dispatcher may identify, through a unit’s camera, that a person is hostile, so the dispatcher could then tell responders to use caution when arriving on scene. Another example could be a dispatcher instructing responders to bring extra equipment to a scene, so there is no lag time between arrivals and getting the needed equipment.

Ultimately, the cameras allow for greater flexibility and an improved response because dispatchers and responders can react to activations more efficiently, and patrons can get an improved response to their emergency.

“Stations are easy-to-use and program,” Adcock said. “Operation is flawless, and we’re happy with its proven reliability.”

The emergency phones have been at the hospital for nearly 10 years. In order to maintain and operate these phones, the hospital’s security staff tests each station at the beginning of every month. While most of the emergency phone stations are deployed in parking decks and lots, others are deployed inside hospital stairwells to provide an alternative area of refuge. As the hospital’s facilities continue to grow, so does the presence of emergency phones.

This article originally appeared in the September 2013 issue of Security Today.

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