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Healthcare Facility Security: Patching the Vulnerabilities


Inside view of hospital or healthcare clinic; nurses in blue standing by front desk

Recent media reports of shootings in hospitals and medical clinics have shaken the already frayed psyche of American citizens, especially those working in the health sector. From hospital maternal wards in Dallas to waiting rooms in Atlanta, these tragic events have reinforced a painful truth: healthcare facilities, and by extension, the people within them, are increasingly vulnerable to attacks.


While most healthcare providers already utilize some level of security to protect their buildings, recent events have demonstrated that current practices are simply not enough. It is imperative that providers re-evaluate facility vulnerabilities and implement stronger security methods to reduce risk to patients, visitors, and staff.



Why are healthcare facilities targeted?

The motives for targeting a healthcare facility will vary by perpetrator, but the common factors that make facilities vulnerable are easy to pinpoint. Most healthcare buildings are publicly accessible, allowing patients or even visitors to enter without requiring authorization. Waiting rooms are a prime example: easily accessible spaces containing significant numbers of people, often with a reduced level of health or mobility. This may cause them to be seen as a “soft target” by a potential shooter looking for locations that will offer little resistance. For shooters without a clear target in mind, a hospital, clinic, or doctor’s office may represent a quick, easy opportunity to carry out an attack.


Unauthorized access is especially a problem for larger healthcare facilities, such as hospitals. Staff and patients come and go at all hours, which can make it difficult to detect suspicious activity without dedicated monitoring equipment. The addition of visitors makes things even more challenging, often necessitating dedicated front desk staff to process entry and notify security personnel of any issues. However, there simply may not be enough staff available to facilitate visitor screening at all entrances; this can lead to situations where an ill-intentioned person can easily slip in unnoticed.


External threats are also not the only issue facing healthcare facilities. In a unique setting where stakes are high and health outcomes are uncertain, emotions can quickly take over. A visitor or patient may escalate to dangerous behavior, as was seen in the Dallas maternal ward shooting. Operators must be ready to respond to threats from people within their facilities as well as outside forces.


The security issues that face healthcare facilities may seem difficult to overcome. However, providers can utilize specific solutions to increase protection for patients and staff without requiring extensive changes in day-to-day operations.



Healthcare Facility Security Methods

Person tapping keycard to door entry lock

Access Control

The first line of defense for healthcare facilities is often a simple, but effective one: access control. Locked doors, accessible only with proper authorization, are simple but effective deterrents. They physically bar entry to criminals while also providing critical time for security staff to detect and respond to the threat. Magnetic and RFID-enabled key cards and fobs are a common door-securing method within healthcare settings, as they enable operators to restrict access to sensitive areas while still allowing free movement of patients and staff as needed. Some facilities may also utilize entry gates to keep unauthorized cars out of private parking lots while still providing quick access to emergency vehicles. Access control can overall reduce the risk of unauthorized entry while keeping automatic, detailed logs of who entered a facility and when.


Video Surveillance

Video surveillance is a well-known security method, used across a vast range of industries and businesses. Already commonly observed in healthcare facilities, it enables continuous monitoring and the capture of critical footage in the event of a crime. Where security staff cannot always be physically present, remote-enabled video surveillance fills in the gaps, working in tandem with access control to monitor and protect entry points and internal areas. Modern video surveillance systems will often include features such as human, facial, and vehicle detection, enabling automatic notification of potential threats.


Video surveillance has additional applications beyond physical security; for example, in situations where round-the-clock patient monitoring is required, but staffing levels cannot support one-on-one observation. The U.S. National Library of Medicine’s Journal of Nursing Care Quality notes that video monitoring is “a feasible option to improve productivity and safety in all patient populations” providing equal or better patient outcomes while lightening workloads on healthcare staff. Surveillance can also be utilized for medical record monitoring, student training, staff PPE compliance detection, and more.


Active Shooter Detection

According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, providing “real-time intelligence to local law enforcement and first responders” is a critical step when responding to an active shooter. While these situations remain rare in healthcare settings, being ready to respond can make a huge difference in the outcome. Solutions such as Active Shooter Location Identification (ASLI) work in conjunction with video surveillance to automatically detect and respond to gunfire, instantly sending emergency reports to law enforcement with location, time, and approximate weapon type. Staff can be notified immediately of a shooting and take steps to protect themselves and their patients, saving precious time.


Police officer on radio


Reducing Vulnerability

Nothing can completely prevent crime in healthcare settings. However, there are multiple steps operators can take to improve the protection of their patients, staff, and properties. By utilizing comprehensive solutions in addition to good security practices, healthcare facilities can better prepare themselves in an uncertain threat landscape.


About Twenty20 Solutions

Twenty20 Solutions is a global provider of automation and security technology, smart surveillance, monitoring, and access control solutions for on and off-grid environments. We offer a full suite of artificial intelligence and video analytics technologies, including object detection, facial recognition, license plate recognition, thermal and radar detection, and more. For more information on the ways we can help you secure your healthcare facilities, visit twenty20solutions.com/patient-care.


 

Sources

Abbe, JacQualine Renee, and Christian O’Keeffe. “Continuous Video Monitoring: Implementation Strategies for Safe Patient Care and Identified Best Practices.” Journal of Nursing Care Quality, 10 July 2020, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7899219/


Dašić, Predrag, et al. “Improving Patient Safety in Hospitals through Usage of Cloud Supported Video Surveillance.” Open Access Macedonian Journal of Medical Sciences, vol. 5, no. 2, 2017, pp. 101–106, https://doi.org/10.3889/oamjms.2017.042. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5420756/ (via U.S. National Library of Medicine)


“Hospitals & Healthcare Facilities: Security Awareness for Soft Targets and Crowded Places.” Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency | U.S. Department of Homeland Security. https://www.cisa.gov/sites/default/files/publications/19_0515_cisa_action-guide-hospitals-and-healthcare.pdf


Keller, Alex. “Shooter Charged with Capital Murder for Allegedly Killing 2 at Dallas Hospital.” CBS News, 26 Oct. 2022, www.cbsnews.com/texas/news/shooting-at-methodist-hospital-in-dallas-leaves-1-dead-1-injured/.



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