Critical Security Operation at inner-city hospital doesn't miss a beat
Critical Security Operation at inner-city hospital doesn't miss a beat

Nov 1, 1997 12:00 PM

The system at North Central Bronx Hospital boasts 141 cameras, 83 card readers and alarmed door contacts in 431 offices.

The community served by New York's North Central Bronx Hospital is middle- to low-income and multi-ethnic. Crime in the community involves drugs, burglaries, assaults, robberies and graffiti. Such concerns, especially street narcotics, create the potential for volatile situations, and because the hospital is open to the public, it can be a target. Street violence often follows its victims into the emergency room; medical equipment, supplies and controlled substances are often targets of theft; and hospital patients and visitors can be targets of purse snatchings and muggings.

The security operation Security at North Central, headed by John Nicoletti, director of hospital police, prevents outside forces from interfering with smooth hospital operations.

Nicoletti started as a security officer with the hospital in 1972 when it was called Fordham Hospital and was located in the Fordham section of the Bronx. He was promoted to sergeant and eventually to captain. In 1986, he was appointed assistant director of hospital police, and, in 1990, he was named director.

The first security system installed in 1993 included 64 CCTV cameras. Today, because of continual upgrades, there are 141 cameras throughout the hospital, 83 card readers and alarmed door contacts in 431 offices.

"We didn't really have a system prior to 1993, except in the pharmacy and sterile supply areas," says Nicoletti. "Those locations utilized a stand-alone system that gave us more trouble than it was worth. In 1992 and 1993, we experienced numerous thefts in labs and the delivery suite - all of medical equipment. We knew it was an employee and tried everything, including stakeouts, to catch him, but he eluded capture.

"During that same time, we entertained a sales call from Sensormatic. I asked the salesman if we could borrow a covert camera in an attempt to catch a thief. He complied and helped our officers install a chip camera in the ceiling of the location where the thefts had occurred. The installation was completed by 8:30 p.m., and by 1 a.m. the following morning, the employee was apprehended, arrested and subsequently convicted," says Nicoletti.

The thief's capture helped Nicoletti sell to hospital administration the idea of putting in a hospital-wide security system. Because North Central is owned by the Health and Hospitals Corp. of the City of New York, Nicoletti had to go through the standard procedures for getting approval, which include sending out a proposal for bid. Sensormatic was eventually awarded the contract.

The access control system The system is a Sensormatic AC500 platform that includes card readers, motion detectors, infant removal detection, alarm inputs, magnetic locking devices, panic buttons and elevator control.

Elevators are integrated into the AC500 software so that when a medical, fire or police emergency arises, anyone on the emergency or cardiac arrest code team can swipe a card at an elevator reader at any floor level and commandeer an elevator. An elevator going to an incident location runs faster than normal speed. It will go from ground level to as high as the 17th floor in 8.5 seconds. The 386-bed hospital has 19 floors encompassing 735,000 square feet.

Wiegand card readers are located in administrative offices and in sensitive areas such as the pharmacy, the central sterile supply, the photo ID room, the sexually transmitted disease (STD) clinic, ophthalmology, the operating room, the telecommunications room and all infant locations, including nursery and maternal care.

Access control cards incorporate an ID photo and a color-coded stripe. Different colors are designated for different areas. For example, a specific color is used in infant areas, and mothers in those locations are cautioned not to hand over a baby to anyone unless the person carries a card with the correct color stripe.

Hospital staff who work in security-sensitive areas receive in-service training from the security department. Staff in maternity areas are trained to spot possible abductors. Emergency room employees are trained how to handle a hostage situation or civil disturbance. Once a year, all employees in security-sensitive areas receive refresher training specific to their area. All hospital employees receive in-service training on identification policy, bomb threat policy, fire and safety procedures, how to handle workplace violence and how to report an incident.

The CCTV system CCTV cameras in and around the hospital are from Sensormatic and employ Computar fixed lenses, some with auto iris. They are mounted in Pelco housings. Cameras incorporating 10x zoom lenses are housed in domes and used in areas such as the emergency room, main lobbies, parking lots, administrative areas and receiving. Aiphone video intercoms are also used in security-sensitive areas.

CCTV cameras have helped control a homeless problem. Because cameras constantly monitor lobby locations and the emergency room, the area's homeless, who congregate in and around the hospital, cannot go past those parts of the facility. "Prior to installation of the system, they were caught roaming the entire building," says Nicoletti.

American Dynamics version SW-13 video software is used to program CCTV cameras. "The software enables us to assign cameras to specific monitors in the control room and lock out cameras when necessary. I can lock out a particular camera so that its image will appear only on the monitor in my office," says Nicoletti.

The control room houses American Dynamics multiplexers and Panasonic and Sanyo recorders. An NEC video display informs the officer at the console where each elevator is at all times. The control room can communicate with occupants of any elevator through an intercom system.

The room also houses a WYSE terminal that displays all alarm violations in a text mode, including unauthorized use of access control cards.

Covert systems are another part of Nicoletti's operation. Wired and wireless equipment from JTI enables the security staff to place video surveillance in virtually any type of environment. The wireless system consists of a pinhole camera and an attache case that holds a video recorder, monitor, transmitter and receiver. The attache case can be hidden as far as 200 feet away from the camera.

The hospital is a smoke-free facility, and the security department has used covert cameras to catch smokers in unauthorized locations such as stairwells. Nicoletti alarms those locations and places cameras in ceilings to catch the smokers. Once caught, they are issued a fine and can face disciplinary action.

Asset protection The hospital also has an asset protection program that uses Promax tags. The tags are placed on all computer equipment and other fixed assets. If an unauthorized attempt is made to remove a tagged piece of equipment, the tag sounds an alarm in the control room when it passes through a Sensormatic AP600 series pedestal similar to those found in retail stores. The camera that watches that area automatically sends a picture to the control room's call-up monitor and to the monitor in Nicoletti's office.

The security officers Security officers at North Central have the same arrest powers as New York City police officers. The difference is they do not carry guns, but they do carry night sticks and Motorola MT2000 radios.

Officers must take a New-York-state-mandated, five-week training course at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, which includes a required five-day refres her course each year.

Nicoletti also provides departmental training, which includes daily roll call training - a discussion of a pertinent topic at the start of each officer tour. Topics include JCAHO (Joint Commission Accreditation Hospital Organization) standards, customer satisfaction and bomb-threat procedures.

Putting it all together Recently, the security department handled an incident where someone removed a fax machine from the hospital's third floor. "We received a report the following morning that the machine was missing. After reviewing the previous night's tapes, we were able to make a visual identification of the individual. While viewing the tape, it became evident that the perpetrator felt he had gotten away with the crime. So we expected him to return. In a matter of days, he did; however, prior to his reappearance, we had circulated his picture captured from the video tape to all officer tours. He was apprehended trying to remove two VCRs from the same floor. He was placed under arrest, and because of the video tape, also charged with the theft of the fax machine," recalls Ray Matos, a lieutenant with the security department.

Another recent incident involved a woman's purse turned in by an employee. The purse was found in one of the stairwells. After contacting the person it belonged to, it was discovered that monies were missing. The security staff reviewed tape from the camera that was watching the area where the employee who owned the purse worked. They saw the perpetrator take the purse from the employee's desk, place it on his shoulder, and leave. They then tracked his movements throughout the hospital on tapes recorded by different cameras, and discovered that he was an outpatient in one of the clinics. The security staff showed a still picture taken from the tape to one of the employees in that clinic who identified the perpetrator and pulled up his address from the clinic's patient base. The information was given to the local precinct who filled out a crime and incident report and sent it to the NYPD investigative unit.

A couple of weeks later, the perpetrator was arrested on another charge and based on the incident report, the NYPD contacted Nicoletti's department to obtain the video tape of the purse theft, which they also charged him with.

The security department maintains a video library of all recorded tapes from the previous two weeks. After two weeks, all tapes are reviewed and any important material is kept in a permanent library.

To improve the security operation further, Nicoletti plans to integrate the paging system with the access control system. "That way, when an alarm comes in," he says, "it can be simultaneously sent over pagers carried by security personnel and administrative staff. That will immediately alert all concerned individuals that security has been breached within the facility - in real time. The hospital will also be able to tap into the capability for maintenance management purposes and medical emergencies. As a result of surveys we've conducted, we also intend to expand our CCTV and alarm monitoring systems."

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