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Photo Courtesy of Massachusetts General Hospital

Speedy Surveillance

​Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) was named the number one hospital in the United States by U.S. News and World Report in 2015. Along with its prestigious reputation, the healthcare network has a 17-acre urban campus and several satellite facilities around the Boston area. Therefore, the security challenges are enormous at MGH, says Bonnie Michelman, CPP, MGH director of police, security, and outside services, and past president of ASIS International.

“We are a microcosm of the city here,” she says. “We have 30,000 employees, and 60,000 people coming through here every day.” The main campus comprises 29 contiguous and 14 separate buildings, including underground and freestanding garage facilities. Besides the main campus, MGH has 130 offsite facilities, as well as a large number of research centers and labs. “We have 315,000 calls for service every year to our security dispatch centers,” notes Michelman. 

Given the trove of assets MGH has to protect, and the high number of service calls to respond to, the security team has deployed a wide range of surveillance technologies to cover all its locations. The hospital network has upwards of 1,000 cameras from different vendors at its main campus, and 13,000 cameras overall.

In 2013, MGH began looking at ways to upgrade its video surveillance functionality, especially for more effective video recording and management. After looking at several systems, the organization decided on Milestone’s XP Protect VMS Platform, which allows staff to review, store, and manage video. Soon after, in 2014, MGH embedded the Milestone system with software from BriefCam, which brings an efficiency and added granularity to the review process. 

BriefCam allows users to compress several hours of video into shorter time spans, often just minutes, to review activity that occurred in a certain area by separating dynamic, moving objects from a static background. For example, users may want to search for a specific car that drove down a highway on a surveillance camera recording several hours’ worth of footage. If they know the car was yellow, they can search for all the yellow cars that drove past the camera in a certain span of time. Users can search by speed, direction, size, and a host of other metadata. 

After the user selects search parameters, every single yellow car that passed down the road in that time frame appears on the screen simultaneously. A time stamp appears next to each car, showing the exact time it was recorded. 

When searching for individuals, even if the specifics of their appearance are unknown, BriefCam allows users to see all of the people who passed through a certain area over the course of several hours, greatly reducing the amount of time spent reviewing footage. 

When users log onto the video management system with their username and password, they click on a tab called “video synopsis” that brings up the BriefCam platform; no extra login is needed.

Bob Leahy, CPP, PSP, senior manager, systems and technology at MGH police, security, and outside services, notes the installation of the Milestone system took place over a three-year period and was applied to about 1,000 cameras in its system. The upgrade was completed in March of this year. “We have a number of off-campus sites, so we started with a smaller site first, and then we sort of got our feet wet with the new system and then continued to add to that,” he says. 

Michelman says that the time savings, thanks to BriefCam, is a highlight for MGH. “What we don’t have is tremendous amounts of labor that can spend hours–or in many cases, days–that we need to go through video,” she says. “So we can take eight hours of video, and BriefCam creates the ability for somebody to go through that in less than an hour.”

BriefCam has already aided the secu­­­rity team, as well as the rest of the healthcare group. In one case, an elderly gentleman was brought into the emergency room from a nearby assisted living facility, but walked out of the hospital unnoticed. 

By the time security was notified that the man was missing, “we didn’t know where he had gone to, we didn’t know if he was still in the hospital, so we started searching,” says Leahy. “And with the help of BriefCam, knowing where the cameras are located, where the paths of egresses are, we picked a couple of cameras [to review].” 

The footage showed that the elderly man had walked to a nearby metro station stop, and security contacted transit police. “The transit police were able to find him and we were able to ensure his safe return to the assisted living facility,” notes Leahy. 

On another occasion, there was a re­port of egregious behavior in a bathroom. “We had no idea what time of day it was,” notes Michelman, “and of course we don’t have cameras in the bathrooms, but we have them in the hallway outside.” In the past, she notes, it would have taken a whole weekend to review hours and hours of video in that passageway. 

But with BriefCam, staff conducted a search for individuals passing through the hallway outside the bathroom during the rough time span when the incident took place. “And just through BriefCam, being able to go through it very quickly, we were able to identify the exact time frame and the exact individual who was creating the problem,” she says.

The technology has benefits that go beyond security, adds Leahy. The main campus has a small museum open to  the public, and the hospital wanted to know how many visitors were actually stopping in. Rather than having someone sit at the entrance and count each person as they came in, BriefCam allowed them to quickly determine throughout the course of an entire day how many visitors there were. 

Within the platform, users can set up schedules to identify objects moving through the field of view in a certain period of time. Leahy says he showed an intern how to set one up for the hours the museum is open; then once a week, she is able to review the video and count the number of visitors. “It’s been a huge timesaver,” he notes. “And that’s not a security function; that’s a business function.”

For more information: Amit Gavish, [email protected],, 860.269.4400 ​