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Parking garages, transients, and the importance of exterior security


Securing the entire campus requires a detailed risk assessment and prioritizing patrols

Parking garages, transients, and the importance of exterior security

Securing the entire campus requires a detailed risk assessment and prioritizing patrols

As important as it is to prevent violence from occurring inside the hospital, exterior features are often just as vulnerable to potential security risks. Parking garages and surface lots, for example, are frequently identified as high crime areas of a hospital.

But hospital campuses, especially large ones that cover multiple city blocks, can be difficult to manage. Amid shrinking security budgets and fewer officers on patrol, hospital security departments need a prioritized approach to exterior security with efficiency in mind, says John M. White, CPP, CHPA, president and CEO of Protection Management, LLC, in Canton, Ohio.

Healthcare Security Alert spoke with White about some ways that hospital security departments can improve exterior patrols, focus on high-risk security areas, and utilize staff members to identify and track crime trends on the hospital campus.

Look at the structure of your parking garage

Parking structures are the most obvious vulnerable security area on any hospital campus, but the layout of a parking garage can significantly impact safety.

"A lot of times what it comes down to is ceilings are so low and the lighting is so poor that it's really a magnet for crime," White says. "People can get in there and easily conceal themselves, and a lot of people don't feel safe in parking structures because of that. So if you're building a parking structure, a lot of times the architects are talking about putting in higher ceilings and putting in more lighting. Also, the inside walls are open so people can see through them. They just feel much safer that way."

The placement of emergency call boxes is equally important.

"I was in one parking structure that had call boxes stuck in each of the corners of the parking structure," White says. "In order for people to get to them, they had to go back into this corner, and then they are trapped. So it's always a good recommendation to put the call boxes out near the middle of the parking structure so people aren't confined in a corner or stuck between cars trying to get to it.

"In surface lots, it's a lot of the same things. You want to make sure the landscaping is not overbearing and giving people places to hide. Lighting is important, especially if the surface lot is being used in the nighttime hours, which at almost every hospital they use their parking lots 24/7."

Narrow down your responsibilities at night

Many hospitals have multiple parking structures or lots that are time-consuming to patrol. White says he recently visited one facility that had 20 surface lots and two large parking garages. Because security departments may not have the personnel to patrol every parking structure, White recommends selecting a few lots that employees and visitors can park in at night, and shutting down the rest.

"Instead of having security patrol all of those, they just assign a couple of them to the night shift," he says. "Employees that park there know that security is going to be coming through that lot, or they are watching that lot with cameras and the lots are well-lit and close to the facility. It makes it convenient and safer for the employees, and it also requires a lot of manpower from security to go check 20 parking lots when they can really concentrate on one or two."

Find an effective way to manage transients on the property

Depending on the community the hospital is located in, transients and homeless may look for places to hide or sleep at night.

"I've seen that on some hospitals' campuses," White says. "At 10 at night and they start walking onto the property and crawling into the bushes, and that's where they are sleeping. Employees are walking right past them and don't even realize these people are there. It's just a fact of life in some inner city hospitals that this stuff is going to happen."

Security should be aware of this issue and explore ways to deal with it appropriately if it becomes problematic.

Frequently, a simple request to leave will be enough, but White says that hospitals in cities with a high number of homeless may want to consider working with social services to get returning visitors off the campus and into shelters.

"You can't just go out there and kick them to the curb; it's about going out there to see if you can find a better place," White says.

"At the same time, you're helping your own facility by ensuring that those people aren't in the bushes or hiding in a loading dock area.

"When I go onto a property, I'm looking for those signs of homelessness and other activities going on after hours. You'll find the signs in a lot of places if you look, especially those hospitals in the inner city or areas that might have a high homeless population.

"One hospital in particular, they didn't have people sleeping outside, they actually had the homeless people coming in and getting into the hospital tunnel system that connected all the campus buildings," adds White. "The homeless would get in there, and they knew how to climb into the heating and ventilation system and sleep in there. So it's a matter of knowing your property, knowing what to look for, and then dealing with it once you've found it."

Ensure your cameras are working

Cameras can be an important aspect of external security, but only if they are maintained and used properly, White says.

"I was in one facility that had at least 150 or 175 cameras, and less than 30% of them were actually working," he says. "In some outside areas, they were pretty much ineffective because of the lighting.

"They can be a very valuable asset, but they can also be a liability if they aren't maintained and in quality working order. [With] a pan-tilt-zoom camera, you may be talking about $7,000 to $10,000 to have one installed," says White.

"If they stop working or break, and your budget is tight, you might not decide to get that fixed right away. Each facility is going to do it differently depending on their security culture, budgeting, and their management."

Recognize gaps in crime statistics

Crime statistics can provide an important perspective on the surrounding community and help hospitals focus security efforts on high-risk crimes that may spill onto the hospital campus. However, White warns that crime data may not paint the full picture when it comes to security threats.

"Crime rates might not document the actual number of crimes committed because in order for it to get on the crime stats, an arrest has to be made and a police report has to be filed, and that's not always the case," he says.

For example, White says he has been to hospitals where as many as 50% of car break-ins went unreported to police because employees didn't want to deal with the hassle of filing a report when they weren't going to submit an insurance claim.

White adds that security needs to encourage staff members to report any break-ins to the security department as well as the police so that both agencies can use the reports to identify trends.

If break-ins are an issue, security officers may increase patrols through parking lots or warn staff and visitors to keep valuables out of sight. A string of break-ins may even provoke additional patrols from local police.

"It's an important piece of the puzzle," he says. "Someone needs to be tracking what is happening on that campus so they know where to concentrate their efforts on risk management and security issues, and so they know what to educate the employees about for security awareness."

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