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Mass Communication Capabilities Help Healthcare Facilities Manage Physical Security Threats

0221-SecTec-Alex-Walthers.jpgViolence is an unfortunately all-too-common occurrence in healthcare settings. In a 2020 survey, the International Association for Healthcare Security and Safety Foundation found that 2019 saw the second highest assault rate in the study’s seven-year history: 10.9 assaults per 100 beds, second only to 2018 which saw 11.7 assaults per 100 beds.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, healthcare workers accounted for nearly 75 percent of “nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses due to violence” in 2018—the most recent year statics are available for. And the 2018 figures demonstrated how this trend has grown since 2011, from 6.4 incidents of nonfatal workplace violence per 10,000 full-time workers to 10.4 in 2018.

To address violence in the healthcare industry, security professionals are helping to deploy a variety of integrated physical security solutions—including mass communication systems. Essentially, if an incident occurs, a mass communication system provides healthcare workers with the ability to quickly and discreetly report the incident to the necessary people. The system can be customized to reach key audiences, such as incident commanders, safety officers, and management teams.

The ability to send mass communications is an integral part of emergency preparedness and crisis communication. It’s essential for hospitals and healthcare facilities to provide a safe and secure environment for patients, visitors, and staff alike. But it’s a challenging feat when considering that many healthcare facilities are open 24/7, reside in busy areas, and may have widespread campuses commingled with other private businesses. Healthcare facilities are also a dynamic work environment with constantly shifting demands—made even more stressful due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Given the complex healthcare environment, mass communication systems must be designed with ease of use in mind. Every second counts when an emergency happens, so a system must be simple to operate.

For example, systems can be activated by a simple panic button, the use of designated computer keys on any computer keyboard, or via a mobile device. Furthermore, the system must allow for alerts to be initiated by any staff member with authorized access. In an emergency, hospital staff facing the threat will not have the time to defer to a technology specialist to deploy a response.

Integration with existing network systems can offer convenience and help lower any potential learning curve for those using the system. Technologies based on open architecture can help facilitate these integrations. Ultimately, a system must be flexible and secure enough to fit with existing architecture—and scalable enough to evolve over time.

In addition to the potential of workplace violence, hospitals must also be prepared for possible surges from large-scale accidents and natural disasters. It’s clear than when a crisis occurs, one of the most critical needs is to quickly and efficiently communication information to those who need to know it. To meet this need, there are a few different methods that can be utilized.

Many versus One

First, there is a “many to one” system where multiple inputs or triggers are used that lead to a central security team. Additionally, there can be a “one to many” system where a security team alerts others of the situation at hand.

The advantages of a “many to one” system allow operators to collect information from a variety of different sources. This includes cameras and other technology that have been deployed, but also allows staff or even visitors to provide information via crowd sourcing. This is commonly seen at sporting events, or through transit systems with the “See Something, Say Something” slogan. Crowd sourcing can fill the gaps in places where technology like cameras is not allowed (e.g. patient rooms, bathrooms, etc.).

While a “many to one” system is about collecting actionable information, a “one to many” system is about taking that information and deciding who and how to communicate. Results are best when the two systems are paired together. One system collects information, and the other system alerts people who need to know what to do.

For example, consider a potentially dangerous, unruly person in a hospital bathroom. Since there are no cameras, the security team might not be aware of the situation. The proper system would allow staff to discreetly alert the security team without any risk of escalation. The security team could then effectively address the situation—stepping in if needed or using cameras to monitor the person’s next steps. Additionally, they can use the system to send an alert to staff via walkie-talkie, cell phone, or other device to tell them stay out of the area. The security team can also send a message through networked speakers for other patients or guests to stay where they are until the situation is handled.

Ultimately the system protects staff and visitors--allowing the security team to respond effectively with the most accurate and up-to-date information.

Inputs and Outputs

With today’s intelligent network devices, there are many more options for inputs and outputs for “many to one” and “one to many” systems. For instance, as an input, security alerts can come directly from IP cameras when someone crosses into a restricted area. As an output, there can be an audio response sent to network speakers via PoE.

This could be an audio response directly to the person who entered the restricted area with the intention of stopping him or her. The idea here is to be proactive, addressing any potential threat before action occurs. The system could also send an alert to the security team to follow up in case that person does not leave the restricted area.

Alternatively, a response can be sent to a telephone, cell phone, walkie-talkie, digital signage, via text, and more. This allows different people to receive the specific information they need—whether it is to shelter in place, evacuate, or continue with activity as normal.

To further illustrate flexibility, a mass communication system can share a procedural message with hospital staff via certain methods while simultaneously providing law enforcement with specific information through a different means. Broad communication with targeted, audience-specific messaging through an integrated system offers reliability and redundancy while effectively informing the right people to allow them to coordinate to take appropriate action.

Today’s healthcare facilities face many challenges on a daily basis, not the least of which is the threat of violence amidst the stress of the pandemic. The healthcare industry has always done an extraordinary job of employing innovative technology to solve new challenges. The use of network security technology to address workplace threats through mass communication is another great example. The result is a system that can provide quick, effective conflict resolution, peace of mind, and ability for staff to focus on life-saving work.

Alex Walthers is business development manager, partner ecosystems, at Axis Communications.