A Practical Approach to Investing in Advanced Security: Lessons Learned in Healthcare
- By Paul Baratta
- December 01, 2022
Hospital workers are accustomed to saving the lives of those that come through their doors. In recent years, however, they’ve been forced to focus their efforts inward to improve protection for themselves as they and their hospital campuses have increasingly become the target of violent attacks. While overall violent crime is on the rise, incidents of serious workplace violence are four times more common in healthcare than in the private industry—and unfortunately, it’s only getting worse. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the rate of injuries from attacks against medical professionals increased by 63% between 2011 and 2018.
As any business, especially healthcare, evaluates investing in new technology to improve security, they should carefully weigh their options. It’s essential to invest in technology that will not place an additional burden on existing staff, established processes, or a facility’s technological infrastructure and budget.
A Security Improvement Should Complement Staff and Established Processes
There are great advances in technology like Artificial Intelligence (AI) that can help detect and react to threats like weapons, or wearable devices that can record interactions that can help with investigations and training. These advances offer great opportunities; however, new technology also means new equipment, new users, and a need for training and continuing education. The people that will be expected to learn and use the new technology can either be a contributor or a barrier to its success. For example, a hospital might invest heavily in access control and video, only to have employees counter the system by propping open doors! It’s great to have AI that detects weapons, but if there is no one to receive the alarm or react to it, then it’s a waste of time and money.
Before adopting any new technology or AI analytics solution, it’s essential to develop a plan that outlines how it will be used; expectations of the system; and additional needs that might be generated by the system, like staffing.
These are some questions to consider to help plan for a security technology investment:
- How will the solution be staffed, and are there funds in the budget to staff a post 24/7 if the new solution calls for it?
- Is additional staffing needed to manage or respond to security threats?
- Who receives training?
- How do you require training for temporary or contract staff?
- Where will the solution be deployed?
- Are there additional maintenance costs?
- Will the solution require additional servers, storage, or other IT equipment?
- What are the expectations of analytics (if they are involved)?
- Is the information being captured relevant to the existing security program?
- Who will respond to an alert and when?
- If an analytic is used to identify weapons and one is detected, how will security officers be expected to respond, and with what protective equipment?
- If an outside law enforcement agency is called, what is the facility’s understanding of their response time and responsibilities?
Find a Solution that Works Today, Tomorrow, and Easily Grows with Your System
Investing in the latest technology is only worth it if it works today—and tomorrow—and allows for system expansion without having to rip and replace. One of the best ways to ensure a future-proof solution is to select devices from companies with a commitment to open architecture. Whether it’s video surveillance cameras, wearable cameras, or access control devices, it’s essential that there are no silos when it comes to how these products interact with each other and the existing system. Security products are part of a larger ecosystem that relies on adherence to open standards to be effective.
For healthcare security planners concerned that deploying advanced technology like analytics means they must invest in more servers or storage, in many instances, that is no longer the case. The emergence of edge processing is making AI-based analytic technologies more affordable and more scalable. Some surveillance cameras include Deep Learning (DL) AI processing resources built directly into the edge device. Video management software platforms can include features to leverage metadata from cameras in a more intuitive way, as well as deeper integrations to more traditional server-based analytic offerings.
An advantage of using edge computing in a surveillance camera, for example, is that the analyzation process sits as close to the source as possible. Edge analytics tend to have better accuracy because the analysis is performed on the raw video data prior to processing for compression for codecs such as H.265. Leveraging edge processing as a foundation for video analytics positively affects the overall solution architecture by reducing latency, reducing points of potential failure, improving scalability, lowering total cost of ownership, and—in scenarios that require connecting the device via an LTE router or gateway—significantly reducing data plan costs.
In addition to asking if products will work today and tomorrow, it’s important to consider whether they will be needed tomorrow. During the COVID pandemic, many companies rushed to spend thousands of dollars on thermal cameras to evaluate visitors for fever. Even though some of these thermal cameras may have had the capability to accurately gauge human body temperature, they were not designed for mass screenings or long-range fever detection, which can be affected by environmental factors. In many instances, they were purchased anyway in response to an emergency pandemic, and they are likely now sitting in a storage closet as they were deemed impractical. This is similar to what happened after 9/11, when some airports began purchasing facial recognition technology. Airport security departments did not purchase this relatively new (at the time) technology because they knew how to use it or because they knew it would prevent plane hijackings; they did so because in the emotional aftermath of 9/11, they felt they had to do something, regardless of whether it proved useful.
Products Worth Investigating
A healthcare facility, or any organization, that is evaluating ways to integrate the latest technology into its security program should consider incorporating AI into its video surveillance solution. Analytics are much different—and much improved!—from those that users may have tried in the past, which often resulted in false alarms, frustration, and disabling of the system. Today’s analytics offer AI and deep learning that deliver powerful features like facial recognition, weapons detection, license plate readers—even the ability to quickly locate someone wearing a yellow shirt running through a crowded emergency room. These capabilities can help security respond to and isolate threats more swiftly.
In addition to improved AI and analytics, some hospitals are deploying supplemental surveillance solutions like wearable cameras. Wearable cameras have been found to improve security in many ways. Even though acts of violence are increasing at healthcare facilities, wearable camera solutions can help reduce them. After hospitals in the United Kingdom deployed wearable video solutions for staff, they reported a 28% reduction in workplace violence. Oftentimes, just the presence of a wearable camera—along with a warning from hospital staff that employees are wearing cameras—is enough to de-escalate or prevent an attack. If the attack occurs, the camera provides documentation for any investigation or prosecution.
Develop—and Adhere to—a Plan
As healthcare facility managers navigate the ever-evolving security landscape for solutions that can better protect employees, patients, and visitors, it’s important to conduct due diligence, choose the right products for today and tomorrow, and develop a plan that is regularly revisited and revised as needs change. Whether expanding the size of the premises, dealing with a pandemic, or confronting increased violence, having flexible solutions that can be adjusted and scaled accordingly is essential for any business. Needless to say, this is especially true when you’re a healthcare organization and you’re in the business of saving lives.
This article originally appeared in the November / December 2022 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.