Hospital Security 2.0
- By Ralph C. Jensen
- Jun 01, 2008
Some things are so basic that you do them without
thinking. For instance, I hope I never leave my
home in the morning without zipping up my
pants. Well, the same goes for locking the back door. I
keep the doors locked.
The same should apply to a hospital setting—security
should be automatic. Hospital security presents a
unique challenge because a variety of people make up
the work setting. There are numerous rooms and spaces,
costly equipment, all kinds of drugs and many entrances.
Well-planned security is a must because hospitals
offer ease-of-movement within each campus. This type
of facility has to plan for different approaches to security,
many times based on cost, legal compliance and litigation
No matter what the desired security application, it
must begin with the basics. In other words, there are
places that need to be zipped up and kept secure from the
public. Due to new threats and vulnerabilities facing hospitals
today, I like to refer to it as hospital security 2.0.
In mid-March, Jennifer Latham of Sanford, Fla.,
wanted to have a baby. Latham apparently couldn’t have
children of her own, so she went shopping at the Central
Florida Regional Hospital, also in Sanford.
Latham piggybacked her way through an entrance by
following a maintenance worker through what should
have been a secure door. The worker failed to check
behind him, and Latham entered. This is where the trouble
Latham abducted a 1-day-old baby boy from the hospital
and escaped. Luckily, once the baby was taken from
the nursery, nursing staff sounded a Code Pink alert.
Problem was, hospital staff failed to give a description of
the infant and where the incident occurred. Investigators
quickly determined that the hospital did not have proper
rules in place, telling employees that they should check
behind them when entering through a locked door.
Investigators also found that the hospital’s alarm system
and trigger on the secure door failed, or at least was not
working the day investigators visited.
Gratefully, the infant was found with his abductor at
a rest stop along Interstate 4. Police were able to identify
the woman because they had a description of her car.
Hospital officials aren’t saying much, but in a prepared
statement healthcare staff noted, “The hospital has
retained the services of a leading healthcare security
expert to conduct an independent review and assessment
of the hospital’s security program. Following the review,
we will develop a plan.”
An internal review also is under way at the hospital,
though officials said their staff responded quickly. In fact,
the maternity ward now has a security guard 24/7 and is
probably the most secure facility around. Well, it should be.
The central Florida hospital, like any other facility,
must analyze its security for all departments, examining
the business culture of the facility and determining the
threat levels to individual departments. Department
heads should be interviewed to determine threats, then
plan countermeasures for each department.
In this hospital’s case, the first investment into security
would entail low-tech options. This might have been
enough to prevent the abduction. This includes locks and
barriers, but also good lighting for improved visibility.
Beyond the basics, high-tech products should include
alarm systems, access control, photo identification,
cameras, voice communications and a weapons screening
system. New products available that are worth investigating
include patient locators, video pursuit software,
delayed egress hardware and digital video.
These products work, and hospital security directors
and executive management must consider their implementation.
On July 15, 2005, the Hugs infant protection
system thwarted an attempted abduction in North
Carolina. Here’s how it worked. An audible alarm sounded
when the infant was taken from the hospital nursery.
The system is an RFID-enabled device that sounds an
alarm when it leaves the programmed range. Police
immediately arrested the kidnappers, which in this case
happened to be the mother and father of the 4-day-old
boy. It took them less than a minute to grab the baby, put
him in a duffel bag and run from the hospital.
Sounds fishy, doesn’t it? Turns out the couple’s other
children had been taken into custody by the North
Carolina Department of Social Services pending a child
abuse investigation. The parents believed their new baby
also would be taken and made a frantic attempt to steal
their own baby.
Hospitals, much like churches, have always been considered
sacred, but as crime grows in the country, we
now find that we’re not particularly safe at home, at
work and even in the hospital. Because of the actions of
a few, hospitals have less public access than ever before.
Fire doors to the outside are now looked upon by criminals
as escape exits. Older hospitals bring their own set
of problems—due to the open design, they are difficult
to secure. Retrofitting security solutions at older facilities
might be an expensive nightmare, but it’s necessary.
How secure is your hospital facility? What security
measures are in place for patients, staff and visitors? A
renewed commitment by hospital administration to the
security process will define the ultimate success.