Filling the Gap
Communications issue resolved at Shawnee Mission Medical Center
- By Greg Smith
- Jun 01, 2017
When seconds count in an emergency, such as an
active shooter or severe weather, gaps in communication
can cost lives. Many schools, businesses
and healthcare facilities face the challenge
of ensuring comprehensive coverage with
their existing emergency mass communication systems. Such was
the case at Shawnee Mission Medical Center, part of the Adventist
Health System (AHS), located in Merriam, Kansas.
“There were gaps in our communication for routine and emergency
alerts, many areas in the facility did not receive the primary
alert from the Overhead Paging when it was announced (or it was
inaudible),” said Daniel Anderson, Shawnee Mission Health’s emergency
management program manager. “When we looked to identify
areas—which had communication deficient areas—we also identified
modes of communication to fill the gaps from the Overhead Paging
system for our mass communication system plan.”
Deploying Desktop Notification
Identifying this gap in communication led the facility to deploy a
desktop notification solution from Alertus, which has become a lead
for emergency communication. For a healthcare facility where the
majority of staff members work near a computer, it is an effective
communication tool. The facility also identified a regular use for the
system were they routinely push out medical alerts and other associated
internal emergent notifications. “When you have a system solely
for emergency communication, you often only use the system twice a
year when you test it. My belief in emergency communication is when
you can find a routine use for the system you will not forget how to
use the system and will produce a more efficient communication from
a tested system,” Anderson said.
Prior to implementing Alertus, Shawnee Mission did employ a
desktop notification system but it was a challenge to update and manage.
A major issue arose when the computers were switched out or
their software was updated. The desktop system did not provide continuity
for which PCs did or did not have the panic software. The primary
identification was the placement of stickers on the keyboards.
However, this was troublesome because when the PCs were swapped,
the keyboards remained the same but no longer had the panic software.
Employees thought they could still press the keyboard buttons
to activate the panic function which was not always the case. “Employees
were pushing buttons for no reason,” Anderson said. “We
were creating a false sense of security that needed to be eliminated.”
The arrival of the desktop notification solved many of these issues
from the prior system. The toolbar shows the desktop notification
is online, and ready to receive notifications. This is also observed
from the Alertus Unified Facility Notification Menus.
Targeting the “Lull” Areas
While the desktop notification helped provide comprehensive coverage
throughout the staffed areas-in-the-hospital, there were still
“lull” notification-areas such as lobbies, hallways and entry/exit areas.
These areas lacked a constant staffed associate who could convey
actions or the message from the communication platform such as the
desktop notification and this needed to be addressed.
“We had to look at different ways to touch these lull locations,”
Anderson said. “People could not get an alert if a staff member was
not present to advise them of the issue or threat.”
To that end, the hospital deployed alert beacons to better notify
these building areas of an emergency. To further provide coverage,
an emergency notification can be pushed through the hallway TV monitors, which typically carry a marketing
message via the desktop notification as well.
Testing in Real Time
The system has been tested in real events time
and time again, including in November 2015
during a “Shots-Fired event.” Shots were fired
nearby causing the hospital to go into lockdown.
It was activated and hundreds of hospital
occupants were alerted to the situation.
After the event, Anderson was able to run a
report to see how many people they reached
and used the incident as an opportunity to refine
their emergency response protocols.
“With our existing and prior communication
mediums we could never evaluate how
many people we have touched,” he said. “It
was more of a guess.”
During a tornado event in 2015, the system’s
capability to send targeted, customized
messages proved invaluable. The hospital
received two different weather warnings: An
“Imminent Warning” for the Shawnee Mission
Medical Center location and a “Null
Warning” for the Shawnee Mission Health
Prairie Star location in nearby Lenexa, Kansas.
The alert notifications required different
actions, and through the system, they were
able to notify personnel at the Lenexa location
that patients did not need to be moved
while simultaneously notifying the Shawnee
Mission Medical Center campus that patients
did need to be moved.
Fulfilling Critical Gaps
Shawnee Mission Medical Center and Anderson
were able to fulfill critical gaps in Shawnee
Mission Medical Center and Shawnee Mission
Health’s communications by implementing the
desktop alert notification and Alert Beacons.
As he continues to work toward fully integrating
the hospital’s mass communication efforts,
Anderson plans to leverage the system’s integration
capabilities to tailor
his mass notification
strategy to fit the hospital’s
This article originally appeared in the June 2017 issue of Security Today.