Hospital security requires a subtle approach

June 2003 CCTV, Surveillance & Remote Monitoring

Medical services facilities such as hospitals and clinics face a difficult scenario in terms of their overall security.

By their very nature they frequently have to deal with emergency life and death situations that simply cannot be hampered by strict access controls.

"Hospital security requires a different approach from the typical combination of CCTV surveillance, access and egress monitoring and mobile and static security guards that are generally adopted or applied in other high traffic public facilities such as shopping centres, department stores, banks and commercial buildings," says Dr Bennie Coetzer, managing director of Thales Advanced Engineering, a manufacturer of high level electronic surveillance systems.

Many hospitals simply leave their security in the hands of a security company, a form of outsourcing that Dr Coetzer sees as not necessarily being in the best interests of the hospital, its patients, doctors, staff or the visiting public. "The security company will naturally bias its security solution towards the services that it provides, leaning quite heavily towards the physical presence of guards with perhaps some static cameras at key points. This does not necessarily constitute the answer to the hospital's real security needs and the working solution is hardly ever as simple as that.

"Hospital environments are rather unique. They have to avoid at all costs any hint of a prison-like atmosphere. The security therefore has to be subtle, unobtrusive and non-invasive - giving staff, patients and visitors a comfortable feeling of safety while at the same time maintaining their privacy and freedom of movement." While Dr Coetzer concedes that proactive camera surveillance systems are difficult to implement in hospitals because of a much greater need to preserve against invasion of privacy, there are many benefits to be obtained from reactive surveillance where, in the event of an incident or theft of equipment, recorded images from the camera or cameras in the vicinity can be quickly accessed and the culprits identified.

"With this emphasis on reactive security it is imperative that the stored images are of very high quality - there is simply no point in having a surveillance system if the pictures recorded or digitally stored are not clear enough to make a positive identification.

Netcare, the JSE-listed healthcare group, has a group risk management unit to identify and manage risk factors and implement appropriate systems of internal control to mitigate risk to acceptable levels. An integral responsibility of the unit is security.

Unit head Daleen Nel says security for hospitals is complex, requiring a customised approach that takes into account costs, the need to not unduly hinder access - for the benefit of visitors and for staff in terms of emergency reaction - and the need to respect privacy.

"Our overall approach has to be reactive with the cameras there to help us if and when something does go wrong. Storage of images is an important factor if we are to successfully identify those responsible for any incident, misdemeanour or crime. Nel adds that there are areas within hospitals where proactive camera surveillance can take place such as in the pharmacies and coffee shops, at the front desk reception and at accounts where cash is handled.

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