Cauterizing Criminal Activity

CoxHealth uses network video to stem narcotics thefts and vandalism

Whether it is staff dipping into the pharmaceuticals or drug abusers looking to snatch a quick fix, narcotics theft has become a serious problem for hospitals. But when your hospital campus stretches across more than 52 acres -- including multiple buildings, parking lots and parking garages -- the magnitude of additional criminal behavior the security department might face can be absolutely daunting.

CoxHealth in Springfield, Mo., had been a long-time advocate of using electronic surveillance to protect people and property within its vast premises. In fact, hospital security was already monitoring more than 300 video cameras attached to multiple DVR-based analog systems. But the technology’s gaps in coverage and archiving constraints made it difficult to review weekly incident reports and gather forensic video in a timely manner.

When the hospital built a new 780-car parking garage last year, public safety managers decided it was time to upgrade to a more robust network-based security system. The new system would allow CoxHealth to centralize surveillance, helping staff spot trouble more quickly and dispatch mobile officers more effectively. Consolidating video storage on a network server would minimize hardware in their already-overcrowded monitoring center, provide greater archiving capacity and simplify incident retrieval to expedite investigations and criminal prosecution.

Augmenting Enforcement Patrols
As commissioned law enforcement within the county, CoxHealth security officers have full arrest powers when policing the property. They file their own reports, and when a case goes to trial, they often can provide video evidence.

“Unlike a private security force, we’re able to handle our own problems,” said Joe Rushing, director of public safety and security for CoxHealth. “We monitor our cameras 24/7 and are always on the lookout for someone causing trouble.”

Once hospital officials made the decision to upgrade, they hired NetWatch, a Springfield-based IP surveillance system provider, to unify the video systems campus-wide. The integrator deployed an array of Axis PTZ and HD-quality network cameras in the new parking garage, in the CoxHealth Surgery Center and throughout the premises. They also have begun network-enabling hundreds of existing analog cameras through AXIS 241Q video encoders. NetWatch chose a robust OnSSI video management system to control the surveillance operation because of both its ease of use and ability to accommodate the hospital’s future enterprise-wide surveillance plans.

To preserve the chain-of-evidence standards required by the courts, NetWatch runs the surveillance system on its own separate, secure video network.

“This way, we know who’s looking at our video and who has access to our servers,” Rushing said. “A defense attorney doesn’t have any grounds to raise the issue of video tampering and get our evidence thrown out of court.”

With such vast acreage under surveillance, the security office is always a hive of activity. Two to four officers per shift monitor two video walls, dispatching patrolmen to disturbances, accidents and other incidents as needed. Embedded video motion detection on the cameras makes it easier to spot trouble and dispatch mobile patrols accordingly.

Though mobile patrols regularly police the grounds, Rushing acknowledges the importance of having cameras in fixed locations to keep eyes on a site once the patrol car has passed.

CoxHealth’s deployment demonstrates the power of a security team working with their video surveillance system to do much more with the staff they have.

“We need to protect more than 2.3 million square feet of property around the clock,” Rushing said. “We couldn’t possibly hire enough people to cover all the ground that the cameras do.”

Tracking Problems Around Parking Structures
To protect the new 780-car parking garage, NetWatch installed 40 network cameras throughout the gated facility. Seven PTZ network cameras guard the entrances and exits, and the remaining 30-plus cameras cover the parking bays and ramps.

“We use the network cameras to document the typical incidents that occur in a parking garage such as thefts, fender-benders and break-ins,” Rushing said. “We’ve also used the cameras to track suspicious people from hospital buildings to their vehicles and vice versa.”

Because all the video streams to a central monitoring station, CoxHealth is able to piece together images from multiple cameras to identify individuals and verify a timeline for their inbuilding activities.

The network cameras have been so successful in the new parking garage that CoxHealth requested that Net- Watch network-enable the 64 analog cameras in an older 580-car parking garage across campus. There also are plans to convert the analog cameras currently deployed at several parking lots scattered throughout the hospital’s property.

Focusing on Vulnerable Areas
At the CoxHealth Surgery Center, fixed dome network cameras are trained on building entrances, exits and walkways to document slip-and-fall claims and other incidents occurring outside the building.

Inside the facility, NetWatch deployed fixed dome network cameras to monitor hallways, sensitive document storage areas and medication dispensaries.

The cameras were particularly well suited for the busy locations because their unique design allowed for quick installation in the hospital’s dropped ceilings. Additionally, other cameras are powered using one cable via PoE.

“Hospitals can be a target for narcotics theft,” Rushing said. “So we’ve put cameras at a number of key distribution points like medication cabinets, medical disposal areas and our pharmacy, where we know there’s a lot of foot traffic.”

Because of this, the cameras watch more than just people. NetWatch positioned the cameras in such a way that the exceptional video clarity can be leveraged by security staff to compare the dosage being entered on a computer to the actual amount being dispensed.

The advanced H.264 compression used by the M3011 cameras allows the hospital to affordably archive three to four weeks of video typically needed for internal narcotics investigations.

Providing Crime-watch Support
While CoxHealth has seen a dramatic drop in criminal activity on its grounds, neighboring sites also have indirectly benefited from the hospital’s surveillance technology. Rushing recalls an incident where a backhoe was stolen from a construction site about a block away from the hospital.

“Our cameras caught the whole thing on video,” Rushing said. “The images were so crisp that they not only showed the backhoe being driven past our property, but also the accomplice’s vehicle following behind.”

CoxHealth shared the footage with the local police, who were able to catch and prosecute the perpetrators.

Around-the-clock video surveillance is such an integral part of the Cox- Health security program that, given the choice, Rushing opts for installing more cameras rather than beefing up his security staff.

“As long as we have someone monitoring the video, our team can do more with a network camera than we can by adding another person,” Rushing said.

Using Video Analytics to Direct Expansion
Hospital officials see the value in video surveillance beyond hospital security.

The healthcare provider plans to use video analytics to direct future expansion and renovation of hospital facilities.

“Counting people and cars coming and going on our property certainly has value for security,” Rushing said. “But the statistics we gather through video surveillance also will help our administrative board see what facilities are being under-used and overused so they can plan new projects accordingly.”

The CoxHealth security team has discovered that there are many ways to derive benefits from deploying network video. Leveraged as both an operational and strategic planning tool, video surveillance data offers realtime insights that CoxHealth can use to improve the safety and healthcare services it provides to the community.

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