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Prevent infant abductions using WiFi


January 12, 2017

New technologies can help prevent newborns with systems that hospitals may already have in place

Electronic infant protection is a widely adopted technology to protect newborn infants from the threat of abduction and mother/infant mismatches. At this stage, the majority of hospitals offering maternal childcare services are using this advanced radio frequency identification (RFID) smart tag technology to provide individual protection to infants.

A body of best practice also has arisen, based on more than a decade of experience in using infant protection solutions. While rare, abduction attempts continue to occur at a rate of a few per year. Increasingly they are successfully thwarted; however, each time an event occurs there is something to be learned. Since these incidents often are widely reported, the collective knowledge gained can be used to better counter this hard-to-predict threat.

A new generation of technology has the potential to raise the bar even further. A shift is taking place from an older generation of systems that use proprietary RF protocols to those that leverage the existing WiFi network to locate and track infants all over the hospital.
The ability to see the infant anywhere covered by WiFi—right down to the parking garage—dramatically expands the range of possibilities for deploying and using infant protection solutions.

Running blind
The current strategy is to build a perimeter around one part of the hospital—usually the OB unit—and turn it into a mini fortress. All exits are protected to prevent an egress, and infants are continually monitored while inside the zone.

However, beyond this area there is no visibility at all, since covering the whole hospital with proprietary infrastructure is prohibitively expensive. If a would-be abductor makes it through a monitored exit with an infant, or if the infant is kidnapped while receiving care outside of the safe area, there is no way to locate them.

Because of this, the security response is essentially blind. Typically, nurses on the unit go to the exit where the alarm occurred, and if the infant is not quickly located, then all exits from the hospital must be secured. The hospital is effectively placed in lockdown while a comprehensive search is undertaken with few clues as to which direction the abductor might have gone.

With a WiFi-based solution, the current location of the infant can be monitored in real time based on signals received from the hospital’s standard WiFi access points. With this kind of information available, the nursing staff’s first action can be to go to any computer and find out where the infant is now, not rush to an exit to find the infant is already gone. Similarly, it is possible to imagine the security control center acting as quarterback for the incident response, tracking the abductor’s movements through real-time Wi-Fi location and complementary video surveillance, remotely locking doors in the abductor’s path of travel and directing security personnel to the area of the hospital where the abductor is heading.

Expanding protection
Taking it a step further, the whole design approach to infant protection can be altered to make not just the OB unit the protected area, but the entire hospital. Since the location of infants is continually monitored, it is possible to generate alerts not only when infants pass through an exit, but when they are detected in restricted parts of the hospital. Standard workflow routes can be designated so that staff members can transport infants to other areas for treatment without hindrance, but if the infant is ever taken outside these areas an alarm is immediately generated.

Many hospitals likely will continue to secure exits from the OB unit, but it is also now feasible to monitor exits in other parts of the hospital to stop an abductor. In addition, the access control system can respond in real time, funneling the abductor in a certain direction by progressively locking exits until the abductor has only one choice, leading to where the security team is waiting.

It is not yet clear what practices will emerge with this new technology, and the security of infants will continue to rest ultimately on comprehensive procedures and on educated, motivated, and prepared hospital staff. What is certain is that the net result will be better protection for infants through continual visibility on their whereabouts.

Editor’s note: Portions of this story originally appeared in Facility Care, a publication of Thompson Information Services.

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