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Picture of Health

SOUTHSIDE MEDICAL CENTER, one of the oldest and largest community health centers in Georgia, is responsible not only for tending to the health of its 30,000 patients but also for making sure that while on the property, those patients, their visitors, and the 270 people working at the center are reasonably safe and secure. With only a handful of security personnel onsite, Southside needs a high-quality surveillance system to help it protect the 46,230-square-foot facility and three adjoining parking lots. To improve the effectiveness of the surveillance, the center decided to replace its existing analog cameras with a digital system.

Southside’s location in downtown Atlanta poses some serious security challenges, given that the area has gang-related activities and crimes such as after-hours break-ins. On one occasion, 11 youths broke into the medical center and pulled a 50-inch flat screen television from a wall, dropping and breaking it before they made their escape. In that case, the analog CCTV cameras captured the entire event, but the video quality was so low that the resulting images were useless in helping to catch and prosecute the offenders.

Incidents like that one led Barlon Lundgren, director of corporate affairs at Southside, to explore his options in replacing the hospital’s aging analog cameras. It took him several years to convince senior executives to put aside funds for a new system. However, once the project was approved a year ago, it took only six months to make a final decision and get the new system up and running.

Lundgren chose the High Definition Surveillance System by Avigilon of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. He liked that the system could integrate the new digital cameras with the legacy equipment as needed. Not everything was being replaced at once due to the need to spread the cost over several years.

Lundgren started with a dozen megapixel cameras, which were placed on the exterior of the facility for perimeter monitoring. (Three of these cameras were positioned to exclusively capture license plate images.) Nine analog video encoders were installed to integrate the 28 analog cameras into the new Avigilon system. Lundgren plans to phase out all of the remaining analog cameras and replace them with digital units as his budget allows.

Feeds from the new HD cameras are now streamed via the network onto HD network video recorders (NVRs) using the system’s network video management software. Cameras are not monitored 24/7, but Southside’s CEO, IT director, security supervisor, and Lundgren can all view the camera feeds from their desktop computers.

The new system provides clear, digital images that can be used as evidence in criminal proceedings. But those high-quality images generate large data files that take a lot of storage space. Because Lundgren wanted to ensure that the cameras delivered the highest quality images possible, he had to compromise on how long images would be stored.

The current system is set to store full quality footage for two weeks and then to compress that footage as it ages for longer storage on a graduating scale. Lundgren did not want to begin compression and deterioration of footage until at least 30 days had passed but the issue of storage cost was hard to resolve. IT is still working on this item, along with the revamping of the network servers. Lundgren wants to add a minimum of two more weeks of quality footage because he does not always receive notice of an event requiring an investigation until after the initial two weeks have elapsed.

One option being explored is that with the addition of a standalone recorder, Lundgren can increase the full-quality storage for 45 days before beginning compression and purging footage. Lundgren says he would prefer to simply add additional storage capabilities to the central system.

The new system also streamlines search capabilities. It allows Lundgren to search for specific footage based on date and time. He can also follow a suspect, target, or situation through the footage, jumping ahead to each time when that person or situation reoccurs. This feature cuts research time in half.

Using the system’s video management software, security staff can move back and forth between live and recorded footage for evidence collection. Lundgren says he uses this feature when he has been notified of an incident in progress. He can look at the recorded video to determine what has already happened while another team member views the incident in real time.

The staff also uses this feature during investigations. “A dispatched officer can receive verified information from dispatch to confirm or refute a perpetrator’s version of events based on recorded footage,” says Lundgren.

The software then allows for a simple transfer of any relevant images onto DVDs, making it easy to share evidence with law enforcement.

Scalability was another key requirement. Southside plans to build a 60,000-square-foot facility across from the main building to accommodate new services. “Within the next two years, the surveillance system will triple in size, so we needed to deploy a surveillance system that could easily expand to meet our future needs,” says Lundgren. “We also plan to gradually integrate our five satellite clinics into the system so we can monitor activities at all our facilities from a central location.”

“The biggest challenge during the installation was me,” jokes Lundgren. “I’m not from the IT side of security, so I had to work very closely with our IT department to ensure that we didn’t overburden our network.”

Lundgren has helped sell the system to senior executives by using it to address a range of problems, such as conflicts between patients and staff. Security staff have also used surveillance footage to resolve complaints, address performance issues, investigate internal theft, and respond to confrontations between patients onsite.

Southside has further planned and designed the system so that audio monitoring can be added in certain areas if needed. Though no timetable has been established for installing the audio, it will be a permanent part of the system. According to Lundgren, the hospital will use the audio component for performance improvement and quality assurance programs.

“The goal would be to monitor how our staff interacts with our patients, and what is being expressed to the patients to improve customer service and satisfaction,” says Lundgren. The audio devices will only be located in areas where customers normally interact with staff, such as the registration and intake desks, and proper notice will be provided to satisfy legal disclosure requirements.

This system was put to the test on the first day it was installed. Four teenagers drove onto the premises in a stolen vehicle and stole a second car from the parking lot. Using the new cameras, security captured detailed images of the thieves and the license plate numbers of the cars. Southside immediately notified the police and shared the images with them. Using the information, law enforcement officials retrieved the stolen vehicles and arrested the perpetrators.