Tying Systems Together At Atlanta's Piedmont Hospital
Tying Systems Together At Atlanta's Piedmont Hospital

Mar 1, 2003 12:00 PM

From the day he took the job as security director at Atlanta's Piedmont Hospital, Gary LaClair knew he wanted to build an access control system with the best tools technology had to offer. In those early days, the big-city hospital had less than two dozen cameras that routinely panned areas and channeled images back to four VCRs. LaClair knew they needed something better.

A decade later, the CCTV system had grown to 150 units, covering nearly every area in the hospital and its parking decks. Multiplexers allowed 16 different images to be recorded and monitored at a central station. Panic alarms in the hospital and call boxes in the parking lot provided an extra measure of security. Video ID badging provided an identification system.

The system was beginning to measure up to the demands of this prestigious century-old private institution. The security staff knew that they had many assets to protect on the 26-acre campus that boasted 500 beds, 3,000 employees and a medical staff of more than 800 physicians. Still, something was missing from the system.

"The problem was that these elements were not speaking to each other," LaClair says. "It was time to integrate all the systems."

The problems were obvious. The security staff couldn't make good use of the data coming into the central station. Hours of tape were being recorded on analog videocassette recorders, but in order to find evidence of a particular incident, someone had to sit and watch the tape in real-time. Security staff could manually control cameras if they noticed there was something going on and if the panning cameras happened to catch it.

The job of integrating the entire apparatus fell to Jack Johnson and Atlanta-based Intelligent Access Systems a longtime vendor of Piedmont's intercom, badging and access control systems.

"The scope of the work was to re-engineer, re-design the entire thing and bring it all in to a new head-end," Johnson explains.

That task involved the creation of a new central station with state-of-the-art plasma screen monitors connected to a DVMRe digital video multiplexer recorder. The monitors, provided by Kalatel, a subsidiary of GE Interlogix, would interface with a WinDSX 32-bit access control application from Dallas-based DSX Access Systems' access control and alarm management system. The older intercoms were upgraded to approximately 60 digital units, provided by Chicago-based Jeron Electronic Systems Inc. These intercoms are housed in small towers with flashing blue lights and are now integrated into the overall system.

"We put in remote digital intercom exchanges one into the decks and another in a facility across the street," Jackson says. "The Jeron intercom system is 100 percent digital. We're sending digital data so it's crystal clear, and we're able to do it over a large campus, using fiber between the exchanges."

The intercoms transmit data to the access control system, which logs calls and also directs the Kalatel system to switch to a camera associated with a particular intercom.

Panic buttons in the Emergency Room, along with radiation alarms and propped door signals, are incorporated into the system.

Today, when someone arrives at a gate, security officials can see the person on a monitor screen, and the system automatically produces an image of his ID complete with photo. In the past, that was only possible by going through a series of steps at separate stations.

"If somebody is in the parking lot and they hit a panic button, you instantly get an alarm," says LaClair. "That alarm talks to the DSX system and tells it to automatically take the camera that is best positioned to focus in the area. And the cameras come up instantly on the monitor, showing the actual strobe tower as well as the entire parking lot."

The system also opens up two-way audio that allows security to hear and speak to the person in distress.
Event-Activated Video

In the past, CCTV images were stored on stacks of VCR tapes, presenting a daunting task when security needed to find a particular event.

"You'd have to go back and find the multiplexer that had that particular camera," LaClair says. "Then you'd have to call up the camera and look at 12 hours of videotape to see what occurred."

Today, the entire array of cameras is event-activated. Finding a particular event is as easy as walking over to the PC connected into the DSX system and entering the time coordinates for review. The cameras only record when motion activates them.

"If the plane wasn't broken by movement, then there wasn't any video recording," LaClair says. "If it's in an area that doesn't have a lot of movement, then you're going to be able to review 12 hours of video in a short period of time."

Better still, the system allows a degree of control over monitoring that was never possible with the old analog system. The DSX system allows an operator to program the camera for event activation on a limited area of the image.
Smart Tours

Piedmont's camera array is still in much the same location as before, but now it's integrated into the main system. The older PTZ models have been replaced with Kalatel CyberDomes.

These models represent a significant advance over the older cameras, with their slow, gear-driven motors.

"You could see this big camera housing moving slowly and it was pretty easy to avoid it if you wanted," LaClair says.

With their self-contained, smoke-colored domes, the new cameras are invisible to the eye. In addition, they are able to conduct a programmed tour that allows greater monitoring of the areas they cover. The software tells the cameras how to move, when to move, and what areas to observe.

Security officials can still manually redirect the cameras if they want to scan a different area, but once the survey is done they automatically return to tour mode. In the past, cameras had to be manually switched back in order to return to their tour function.
Routing Through Fiber Optics

The cameras' digital signals travel through the hospital's fiber optic backbone to the central station where they can be viewed on the screens. In addition, any PC that plugs into the hospital intranet can log into the signal using the proper IP address, access code and software, and view live video. The security director can even view the images at home by dialing into the network.

Piggybacking the system onto the fiber network was one of the most important aspects of making the new system work properly.

"It's a very costly feat to do it without using an existing network," LaClair explains. "That would require you to run fiber cable and to have your own stand-alone network."

The end point for all this data is the new central station. A small back room that served as the old monitoring station has now been converted into a machine room that houses the new head-end equipment.

Here, the DSX system requires that security officers log in with their own personal access code and password.
Access and ID

The security office also handles the production of ID badges for hospital staff and physicians. These are prox cards onto which a film transfer containing photo and identification data is affixed. ID information is linked to a unique number that is encoded into the access control badge.

"The DSX system reads the badge number and sends that signal to the computer," LaClair explains. "The computer marries that badge number to the name and picture we assigned to that badge number."

Thanks to digital technology and an integrated access control system, LaClair and his staff are doing a better job than ever before in providing security to Piedmont Hospital. As the demands have grown, so has their ability to meet them.

"The technology helps us do our job, but it's still about people providing security," LaClair says. "The technology enables fewer men to do more work."
Randy Southerland is an Atlanta-based writer and regular contributor to Access Control & Security Systems.

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